A History of Morphine Use and Addiction

A History of Morphine Use and Addiction

Morphine is a narcotic painkiller, so it has an important role in medicine. The Encyclopedia Britannica shares that “morphine is among the most important naturally occurring compounds, being of use in the treatment of pain caused by cancer and in cases where other analgesics have failed. It also has a calming effect that protects the system against exhaustion in traumatic shock, internal hemorrhage, congestive heart failure, and debilitated conditions.” This drug is a staple of modern medicine, and it remains the standard by which new painkillers are measured. Morphine is over 200 years old and has ancient roots in opium use, but it is still relevant and useful

The History of Opium

The history of opium explains how morphine, an opiate, came to be. The painkilling, relaxing and addictive properties of opium have been known for millennia. The Danish medical journal Dansk Medicinhistorisk Arbog briefly reviews the history of opium. The earliest written record of medical opium use may be a Sumerian clay tablet dating back to 2100 BC; around 1500 BC, references to opium poppies appear in Greek art and culture; by 100 BC, opium was suggested for use before surgery or amputation. The drug was eventually recommended to treat everything from pain and diarrhea (issues it could address) to “diseases of the eye” (Dansk), a “remedy to prevent excessive crying of children” (Evolutionary Medicine) and as a component of multi-drug panaceas

As medical opium use became more popular and as addictions commonly resulted from both medical and recreational use, the demand for opium increased, as did large-scale violence. The Drug Enforcement Administration Museum explains that “soaring addiction rates among the Chinese…led to the Opium Wars of the mid-1800s. Subsequent Chinese immigration to work on the railroads and the gold rush brought opium smoking to America.” The spread of opium abuse came just as the drug’s medical benefits were understood and as morphine came to be.

From Opium to Morphine

Morphine was developed in 1805 by Freidrich Wilhelm Adam Serturner, whom the University of Chicago Medicine calls “an obscure, uneducated, 21-year-old pharmacist’s assistant with little equipment, but loads of curiosity.” His experiments came from direct interest in the medical properties of opium, and his developing morphine created a derivative with ten times the strength of the original substance. This experimentation did more than create a valuable and useful, if also dangerous, medical tool: “it sparked the study of alkaloid chemistry and hastened the emergence of the modern pharmaceutical industry.” Although much debate and controversy circles narcotic painkillers, there is no arguing that these drugs have revolutionized modern medicine.

Morphine standardized the use of opiates in medicine, but it is a dangerous substance. Physically speaking, its drowsy, depressant effects affect the digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems. Furthermore, users frequently report nausea and constipation, while potentially life-threatening effects can stem from reduced breathing and heart rates

Long-term effects result from morphine use as well, the most infamous of which is addiction. As University of Chicago Medicine shares, “by the 1870s, physicians had become increasingly aware of [morphine’s] addictive properties.” Even if someone is addicted to a drug other than morphine, it may still be a parent of the drug being used. For instance, heroin and codeine are two highly addictive derivatives of morphine

As the medical community became more aware of morphine’s addictive potential, they changed the drug’s definition and prescription protocol. The disease of addiction was once seen as a moral failing, therefore  treated through institutionalization. Now, a more accurate understanding of addiction is commonplace, so old stigmas are slowly but surely being replaced with truth. Addicts now have greater access to research-based treatment that offers hope for complete recovery.

Make Your Morphine Use History

If you are ready to put morphine use in your past, then call our toll-free helpline now. Our admissions coordinators can discuss the most current treatment options for medically supervised detox and recovery—they are available 24 hours a day, and all calls are confidential. Step into the future and leave addiction behind.