All over the world, the opioid crisis continues to run rampant. In order to properly combat the problem, we need to understand its origins and the staggering numbers alongside it.
The opium poppy, also known as the breadseed poppy, scientific name Papaver Somniferum, has certifiably been firmly ingrained in human society for at least 6,000 years. Artifacts from Sumer, a region in ancient Mesopotamia, dating back to 4000 B.C. refer to the opium poppy as the “joy plant.” Other research indicates that peoples of the Mediterranean cultivated the poppy plant for uses ranging from food to painkillers and back to recreational consumption as early as 5000 B.C.
Opium, the sought-after derivative of the opium poppy, has since been transformed into advanced analgesics, or substances used to reduce pain, like OxyContin’s oxycodone, Vicodin’s hydrocodone, and Dilaudid’s hydromorphone. With more than a handful of twists along the way, such modern use has since yielded the opioid epidemic in the United States known all around the world, alongside the abuse of tramadol in parts of Africa, though the latter is lesser-known by the global population.
Here’s a global perspective on the use of opioids, both prescription and illicit, in the United States.
The United States’ opioid crisis
The use of opioids in the United States dates back to the early 1800s, when the naturally-occurring opiate morphine was isolated by Friedrich Sertümer, a German pharmacist known best for his identification of the global standard in analgesia.
In 1853, a pair of medical pioneers created a hypodermic syringe that could easily pierce human skin. After this point, morphine became widely used across the United States. Matter of factly, it became used so frequently by Civil War soldiers that addiction and dependence to morphine became known as the “soldier’s disease.”
In the late 1890’s, a drug named Heroin, a close relative of morphine, was first marketed by Bayer as a non-addictive alternative to morphine. Soon after, society discovered that diacetylmorphine (heroin) was just as addictive as its predecessor.
Both drugs were either outlawed or only allowed for prescription use as directed by licensed physicians.
In the early 1990’s, a pack of pharmaceutical companies headed by Purdue Pharmaceuticals had marketed and lobbied extensively to claim its opioid drug OxyContin was non-addictive.
It worked. Hence, the opioid crisis was born, despite the history of offering non-addictive opioid alternatives to other opioids in the United States.
Americans, for example, experience levels of chronic pain similar to those of Italians and Frenchmen, at slightly less than 50 percent of their respective populations. Compared to a combined 15,000 doses of opioids taken per day by both Italians and Frenchmen combined, Americans consume a whopping 50,000 such daily doses per capita.