Heroin’s Rise in American History


SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — According to The American Society of Addiction Medicine, more than 10,000 American’s died from heroin overdoses in 2014, and that is just a small percentage of the estimated 586,000 people believed to be addicted to heroin. But how did such a dangerous drug become so prevalent in our country in the first place?

America was first introduced to opium in the early 1800’s, brought here by chinese immigrants who were working on railroads in the Old West. It grew quickly in popularity, even being linked to famous frontiersmen Wild Bill Hickock and Kit Carson.

From Opium, doctors began to develop Morphine and ten’s of thousands of people became addicted very quickly.

“We really started seeing widespread use of it with the use of Civil War soldiers as far as to help with pain. They were doing a lot of amputations. Soldiers really became addicted to it,” Drury Adjunct Professor Shawn Billings said.

So doctors looked for a solution, and that’s when they found heroin. In 1874, a german company sent heroin to the U.S. and marketed it as a “safe, non-addictive” substitute for Morphine. American’s were hit with ad campaigns claiming heroin could cure all sorts of things: Alcohol withdrawl, cancer, depression, coughs and colds and old age.

“Heroin is no exception where there has been a misconception that it has a lot of beneficial attributes to it, and I think it’s taken time for that to evolve to see that it has a profound effect on brain chemistry and someone’s ability to function,” Billings said.

It took decades to realize how dangerous the drug really is.

“It wasn’t until 1920 when congress passed the dangerous drug act…Which basically criminalized the use of opiates, heroin, morphine, that entire class,” Billings said.

But by then it was too late. By 1925, 200,000 Americans were believed to be addicted to heroin.

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