Heroin: From Miracle Drug to Epidemic

Heroin: From Miracle Drug to Epidemic

Heroin, an illicit drug which has recently been ravaging our cities as a growing epidemic, has a long history that many do not know.

For starters, heroin is derived from a popular opiate you've probably heard of: morphine.

Opiates originated way back in the mid to late 1800’s and were crafted from the naturally growing opium plants. Opiates became popular in the 1800’s when they were promoted as a cure for alcoholism.

Heroin was first synthesized from morphine by British chemist C.R. Alder Wright in 1874. It was later re-made by German scientist W. Dankwortt who called it diacetylmorphine. Almost a decade later, the drug was branded and first sold as “Heroin” in 1898 by Bayer Pharmaceutical Products (yes, the same people who make extra strength aspirin today). 

The name heroin comes from the German word “heroisch” because patients in Bayer’s medical trial said the drug made them feel heroic.

The rise of morphine use during the Civil War era to treat war-related injuries led to tens of thousands of soldiers becoming morphine addicts.

So naturally, when the newly developed drug Heroin was introduced to the market as a “safe, non-addictive” substitute for morphine, many flocked to reap its advertised benefits.


By the early 1900’s many marketing campaigns had been launched by reputable drug companies preaching that heroin was the “cure-all” for all types of physical and mental conditions including but not limited to depression, alcohol withdrawal, TB, and even the common cold.

With such an influx of the drug into the market and companies large and small wheeling and dealing this product, heroin became severely unregulated until 1920 when Congress passed the Dangerous Drug Act, making over-the-counter purchases of heroin illegal.

Unfortunately by this time, it was too late. By 1925 an estimated 200,000 people, both male and female, were heroin addicts.

This number only continued to rise as the now illegal drug was being manufactured and distributed on the streets of every major U.S. city as well as rural areas.

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, in 2012 about 669,000 Americans reported using heroin.

Its impact has been felt all across the U.S., with heroin being named as the most important drug abuse issue.


From urban to rural communities, many have fallen victim to this highly addictive drug, forcing law enforcement and community organizations to take action at the local level.

Now, law enforcement officers and community health officials are being trained to use Naloxone, commonly known as Narcan, which is a medication used to block the effect of opioids in the case of overdose.


Other efforts being made are the coordination of needle exchanges by community health departments and other public health organizations.

While many Indiana counties have been approved to coordinate these needles exchanges, it is still illegal for anyone to be in possession of drug paraphernalia which includes hypodermic needles.

This will continue to be a challenge for local authorities until new legislation is passed allowing for those involved with needle exchange efforts to be excluded from the penalties associated with violating these possession laws.    

Published by CCPE

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