Heroin History

Heroin is normally a white powdery substance with a bitter taste. However, adulterants or additives can markedly alter the color. Heroin is referred to on the streets as H, smack, skag, horse or junk, etc. The drug is a processed form of morphine. This drug was used as medicine and was actually readily available until 1914 when the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act was passed in order to control the sale and distribution of it.

Heroin has been around for a long time and was actually brought into existence in 1898 by a German chemical company. In 1863 Friedrich Bayer, a German merchant, set up a factory in Elberfeld. This factory was meant to use new chemical procedures for making color dyes from coal-tar. By the mid 1880s raw material availability was deteriorating in the German dye industry. The Bayer company then invested in research in order to diversify its product range. By 1888 Bayer chemists synthesized a new substance which then became the company’s first medicine.

Heroin was originally prescribed instead of morphine after it was finally more widely known that morphine was addictive. In 1898 heroin was tested and due to the fact that it appeared effective at reducing coughs and promoting sleep it was seen as an effective medicine. This was of course before the dangers of heroin itself were known. It was soon discovered, by 1899, that in order for heroin to be effective the dosage had to keep on increasing. This was surely the first of many red flags to come. Then it was discovered that the dry they were using in place of morphine, heroin, was ironically giving patients worse withdrawal symptoms than that of morphine itself. Unfortunately these tentative times allowed for the drug’s potent high to get its hold on society. By 1903 there was a well known article which came out revealing the addictive side of heroin with evidence. This stirred up a lot of controversy, as some doctors still believed heroin was a good medicine.

The Peak of The Heroin Epidemic

The United States was the first country that faced a heroin addiction issue. In fact its peak came around in the 1970’s. It actually made its comeback in the 90’s and since has. Unfortunately heroin is an epidemic that is still being fought. This is a drug that’s often promoted in a less heavy light due to being glossed over in pop culture. There’s a lot to be said about how much glorification and glamorization there has been with heroin in movies, the media, etc. However, it remains a very dangerous drug and one of the worst drugs to date that exist. It’s notorious for being the most addictive drug there is. It’s safe to say it had its peak but the statistics pretty much only roller coaster, the drug always making a comeback.

When Did Heroin Become Illegal?

Heroin addiction ran rampant in New York because it was near the chemical companies that were distributing heroin. By 1910 New York’s Bellevue Hospital had its very first admission for heroin addiction and in 1915 the hospital admitted 425 addicts of heroin. Heroin at this time was more commonly used by sniffing and was usually used by younger adults between the ages of seventeen and twenty-five. In the early 1920’s heroin was everywhere. It had become a dire type of addiction that was eating the city of New York alive. It was reported that there were 260 murders in New York in 1922 which exposed a huge contrast to that of London’s statistic (a mere 17 murders). This was largely blamed on heroin and rightfully so. By 1924 it was obvious that there were more dangers to heroin than even morphine and that this type of addiction was a growing concern. The Heroin Act was passed at this point making this manufacture and possession of the drug illegal. Unfortunately this was around the point where using heroin via injection with a needle was discovered. This was a far more potent and intense way of using than sniffing, as the drug hits your bloodstream almost immediately when used this way.

Why Is Heroin Still Around?

This is a heavy question because there are probably a lot of different angles to look at this from. However, the most important aspect of this drug is that it is one of the most addictive drugs there is. In fact, all types of opiates are highly addictive and usually abused to a large extent. Users describe the euphoria of heroin as a very intense experience where all their stress literally goes away during the duration of their high. However the harmful aspects greatly outweigh any high-no matter how extreme or great the high is. The fact of the matter is that it is promoted for its high and glorified all over pop culture without any regard to the gravity of what being truly hooked on heroin is like. The reputation of heroin along with its stigma has attracted attention since it came into being, and this is probably a big part of the reason why people prone to using as well as dealers have carried the drug into present time.

The drug really doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Not to say that efforts in the direction of getting people clean from it aren’t effective. They definitely are, no doubt about it. In fact, rehabs have come up with a myriad of innovative ways and techniques to get people sober and stay sober. At this point I’m sure the scale is balancing between heroin addicts and people becoming sober from it. Drug dealers seem to understand the infatuation with the drug over the last hundred years and utilize that fact to there advantage. A lot of times heroin has additives and/or adulterants that dilute the drug, in order to increase its volume. This is to serve the drug dealers’ purpose of obtaining higher profit from what they are selling. This can also be dangerous, because it really is money that’s on the mind of the dealers and not necessarily always what they’re putting into their batches.

The bottom line is that heroin has been around for a pretty long amount of time as you can see and, much like all drugs of a potent nature (and especially of an opiate variety), its seeds have taken hold on society along with a reputation that seems to manipulate and infatuate young adults into using for all intents and purposes.

By Robert O. Newman II, ICDAC, ICPS, CIP