In 1861, the Civil War began, and with it, it brought many new changes and obstacles.
Shortly before the war started, morphine was synthesized for pain thus exposing a large number of soldiers to opioids. Soldiers took kindly to the drug as it was reported to relieve physical pain, as well as the emotional distress of wartime experiences. After the war, soldiers returned home with “the Army’s disease” or “the soldier’s disease,” an early name for the addiction opioids caused.
By the end of the 1800s, America had experienced its first heroin epidemic, which led to the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914, which stated that physicians should not treat heroin addiction with morphine. This act made it illegal for doctors to use opioids to treat opioid dependence, and those who wouldn’t abide by the rules were sent to prison.
By the 1960’s, doctors began using methadone maintenance to combat addiction. Methadone works by changing how the brain and nervous system respond to pain. It reduces the painful symptoms of withdrawal and blocks the euphoric effects of opiates, as well as semi-synthetic opioids like hydrocodone.
Today, the opioid crisis is at its peak. In 2016, 64,000 Americans lost their lives due to drug overdose– about two-thirds from opioids. The United States consists of about five percent of the world’s population, and yet an estimated 90% of the world’s prescribed pain medications are used here.
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