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Slight embarrassments of the past


heroin bottle and marketing ladder

Discovered by an English chemist in 1874, Diacetylmorphinea is a bonding of opium’s active ingredient, morphine and the industrial acid, acetic anhydride. A powerful narcotic,it was named heroin in 1898 by the Bayer Company of Elberfeld, Germany who began  mass production of the drug as a broad-spectrum painkiller, registering it as a Trade mark. Heroin stimulates the brain’s opiate receptors to soothe pain, inducing physical addiction and lasting psychological dependence. Unlike  cocaine, heroin is a maintenance drug requiring daily dosage to avoid the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal, its users are more assiduous in their habit and more willing to pay a premium price for the drug. Unlike cocaine, whose users may quit use after a few  months, on heroin’s roller-coaster ride of euphoria and depression, addicts by contrast, continue use for many years, making them repeat customers.

Approved by the American Medical Association in 1906, physicians administered heroin widely with hypodermic syringe as a non-addictive substitute for morphine, a pain-killer in common use since the 1860s. At the same time, pharmaceutical manufacturers marketed heroin in patent medicines as a cure for many diseases, including infantile respiratory ailments.

It was only after the passing of the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914, that all narcotics use required a doctor’s prescription. Even then, it wasn’t until after 1923, that the Narcotics Division of the Treasury Department began active enforcement of the law. The effect was to criminalize the personal use of heroin and cocaine. On a different front, 1925 saw the League of Nations pass strict regulations on the international export of heroin.

I wonder what it is we are prescribing today that will most definitely be banned in the same manner, sometime in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, I think I should research the British reaction to the narcotic during the same time.

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