The Truth About Opioids Epidemic

Opioids are a diverse class of moderately strong painkillers. Despite their high risk of addiction and overdose, the availability of opioids have made them popular both as formal medical treatments, and as recreational drugs.
Sadly, opioids in high doses may cause respiratory failure and death.

Since the early 1990s, “opioid epidemic or opioid crisis” have been in use, to refer to the rapid increase in the use of prescription, and non-prescription opioid drugs across the world.

Now, let me take you down the memory lane – with brief, yet rich information, on where and how we came about opioids epidemic – its shocking effects, how its misuse and abuse have so far been handled, from history’s earliest civilizations to today.

3400 B.C. to 300 A.D.

Opium poppy was first cultivated in lower Mesopotamia.

The Sumerians referred to the plant as “Hul Gil” – which means “Joy Plant.”
The Assyrians got hold of the plant, which in turn was passed on to the Egyptians.

Hippocrates, the “father of medicine,” praised opium for its usefulness in treating diseases of women and epidemics.
Alexander the Great introduced opium to India. Also, during this era, Hua To, a Chinese surgeon used opium preparations, and Cannabis indica for his patients to swallow before undergoing major surgery.

1300 A.D. to 1799 A.D.

Swiss-German alchemist, Paracelsus, who founded the discipline of toxicology, introduced opium pills containing citrus juice and “quintessence” of gold as an analgesic.

Having experimented with various opium concoctions, Paracelsus came across a specific tincture of opium, that was of considerable use in reducing pain.

He called this preparation laudanum, derived from the Latin verb laudare, which means “to praise.”


Friedrich Wilhelm Adam Sertürner, a German chemist, isolated morphine from opium. He named it morphine after the god of dreams, Morpheus.

Throughout this century, Morphine was used to treat pain, anxiety and respiratory problems as well as “consumption” and “women’s ailments.”

During the civil war, morphine was generally used by soldiers as a pain killer – the post-war morphine addiction prevalent among them came to be known as “Soldier’s Disease.”

The use of morphine soon gave rise to the medicalization of opioids. However, because of morphine’s abuse, a safer alternative was sought.

The German chemical company, Bayer offered Heroin – a derivative of morphine, as a cough suppressant, and as a “non-addictive” morphine substitute for medical use.

Early 1900s.

Saint James Society, a community group in the U.S., launched a campaign to supply free samples of heroin, through the mail to morphine addicts who were trying to give up their habits.

However, the German company ‘Bayer,’ stopped the mass production of heroin due to hazardous use and dependence.

Year later, German scientists at the University of Frankfurt synthesized oxycodone, with the hope that it would retain the analgesic effects of morphine, and heroin with less dependence.

Read also > The Common Painkiller that Kills Empathy

In 1924, the manufacture, importation, sales and possession of heroin finally became illegal in the U.S., thanks to the passage of The Heroin Act.

1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

Since it was synthesized and approved by the U.S Food and Drug Administration as Percodan, i.e. oxycodone and aspirin tablets; Oxycodone became widely available.

Ever since then, the abuse of prescription opioids containing oxycodone has been a continuing problem in the U.S.


Vicodin which comprises hydrocodone and acetaminophen, was introduced to the U.S by Knoll, a German pharmaceutical company, it became available as a generic formulation.

Also, during this time period, physicians explored the use of prescription narcotics/opioids, to treat cases of pain that were not due to terminal illness.


The under-treatment of pain was the catalyst for clinicians, and pain societies to successfully lobby for increased use of opioids, for all pain types, including non-cancer pain.

During this era, opioids like Morphine, Fentanyl, Oxycodone, Hydromorphone all became widely accepted.

2000 to 2009.

Despite the measures to control the use of prescription opioids – the abuse and misuse of opioid products containing oxycodone and hydrocodone, including brands such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet and Lortab, increased significantly.

The misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers, became so uncontrollable in the United States.

Pharmaceutical companies began research efforts into formulations of pain medications that would be harder to abuse.
Also, the U.S Food and Drug Administration approved a new set of opioids, that contained some properties meant to deter abuse.

Read also > The Painkillers That Give Pain.

Various programs to educate prescribers about the risks of misuse and abuse of opioid medications were also implemented.

2010 to Today.

As a result of the increase in misuse and abuse of prescription painkillers which seems uncontrollable, pharmaceutical companies intensify the production of product formulations that contain abuse-deterrent properties.

A brief history of Opioids - As explained by Purdue Pharma: a pharmaceutical company with pain medication research and abuse-deterrent technology.

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