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A Surprising History of Heroin

a person looks out of a window while sitting in bed possibly pondering the history of heroin

Heroin has been around for centuries. From the big screen to the opioid epidemic, there may not be a more well-known addictive drug. Unfortunately, the history of heroin only exists alongside the countless lives it has destroyed.

At Northpoint Recovery, we know how difficult it can be to find the courage and strength to fight heroin addiction. Our goal is to help you or your loved one get on the path to recovery and live a life free from this dangerous drug. We provide personalized treatment plans, group therapy sessions, and access to professional counselors who truly understand what you’re going through. Get started in our heroin addiction treatment program today by calling 888.296.8976.

Seeds of the Same Stem

Morphine and heroin are from opium, the sap of opium poppy plants. Opium use dates back to ancient civilizations. The use of opium spread from the Egyptians and Persians to Europe and then to India and China. It wasn’t until the 18th century that the United States started using opium for pain treatment. The addictive properties of opium–based drugs were not known to doctors until the late 18th century.

A Short History of Heroin

A Patented Discovery

Heroin was first manufactured in 1874 by an English chemist. During this same time, morphine abuse and addiction were a problem in the United States and England. Heroin was used to replace morphine and was believed to be non-addictive. Twenty years later, heroin was commercially produced by Bayer, the same company that makes aspirin today. The new drug was named after the German word “heroisch,” which means “heroic, strong.” Bayer trademarked the name heroin and produced a remedy they claimed could substitute for morphine and act as a cough suppressant.

People were unknowingly becoming addicted to a remedy that they believed to be safe and non-addictive. Parents were giving heroin to their children. Once heroin enters the blood, it crosses the blood-brain barrier and releases endorphins. The increased endorphins create feelings of well-being and, for some, a sense of euphoria. Eventually, it was discovered that heroin was highly addictive.

Banned, But Not Forgotten

It was removed from the market and classified as an illegal drug in the United States in 1924. Subsequently, the illicit trade of heroin mainly came from countries where heroin was still legal into countries that outlawed the drug. Today, in the United States, heroin is still one of the best-known drugs of abuse. Most heroin sold on the streets comes from Mexico, Latin America, and Asia.

Since the 1930s, heroin has been a major player in at least two drug addiction epidemics in the United States. During the 1930s and 1940s, a cultural change came through jazz music. Jazz musicians were known to be high-strung types and an easy target for pushers offering a way to calm the nerves before a performance. By the end of the decade, the image of a jazz musician was one of a reckless, addicted soul—a long cry from the happy–go–lucky entertainer of the past.

The second big wave of epidemic heroin abuse came during the Vietnam War. Opiates were easily and cheaply available in Vietnam, and heroin use among enlisted American soldiers became a problem that followed the men home. The men were young, many 18-20 years old, and were underage for drinking. The availability and low price of heroin were added incentives. Many service members returned home from their tour of duty addicted to heroin. More than 15% of the men serving in Vietnam were addicted to heroin.

The Dangers of Heroin

One major risk of heroin is the risk of dealers lacing their product. Heroin is rarely sold on the streets as a pure refined powder. Usually, the substances used to “cut” the heroin are harmless, like sugar or starch. However, when toxic additives are used, there is a risk of serious harm or even death from the additive.

Another risk of heroin is how people use it. The most common way to use heroin is by shooting it into a vein with a needle. Needle users are at significant risk of blood and skin infections and collapsed veins.

Some common side effects of heroin use include:

  • Mental function becomes clouded and slowed
  • Breathing is slowed down
  • Infection and damage to the heart and surrounding tissue can occur
  • Liver and lung diseases may develop

Heroin Addiction Ruins Lives

Heroin addiction is expensive, and supply and demand can become a nightmare for the person struggling with it. Frequent use staves off uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms because heroin addiction stops the body from producing endorphins naturally. Without heroin, someone with a heroin use disorder will not have enough endorphins to block pain signals to the brain.

Learning about the history of heroin is a chance to learn and understand how to make a better future. Getting off of heroin can be painful and difficult. Depending on the history of use, it may be dangerous to try and go it on your own.

Heroin Addiction Treatment at Northpoint Recovery

At Northpoint Recovery in Boise, Idaho, we understand how devastating heroin addiction can be. We strive to provide the highest level of care with a holistic, evidence-based approach to treatment.

Learn more about our programs and get started today by contacting us online or by calling 888.296.8976.