CULTURE

A Brief History of Opioids in America

GREY Journal

With much of the national conversation revolving around the Opioid Crisis, it may help to remember how this problem evolved.

The Very Beginning

The Opioid Crisis has a surprisingly long history. As long as opioids have been used in America, there have been addiction problems. For example, there are documented cases of soldiers who served in the Civil War becoming addicted to morphine. Strangely, it wasn’t until 1914 that people were required to get a prescription for any narcotic by the Harrison Narcotics Act.

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Outlying Opinions

In 1970, the Controlled Substances Act listed various opiates as schedule 1 and 2 drugs meaning they had highly addictive qualities. Unfortunately, in 1980 an article entitled Addiction Rare in Patients treated with Narcotics was published in New England Journal of Medicine. While this was merely intended to be an exploratory article, it was later used as evidence that narcotics could be used to treat chronic pain safely.

(left to right) Howard R. Udell, the top lawyer for Purdue Pharma; Dr. Paul D. Goldenheim, the company’s former medical director; and Michael Friedman, Purdue’s president.
Photographs by Don Petersen
Unexpected Consequences

This is where the modern opioid crisis we see today truly starts. As one may guess this opened the door for pharmaceutical companies to try and sell opioids as safe pain relief medicine. The most famous case of this was in 1995 when Purdue Pharam began running a successful marketing campaign to introduce oxycodone as a safe pain reliever.

Litigation Too Late

It wasn’t until 2007 that the US government sued the company and a handful of executives for mischaracterizing the dangers of oxycodone. Purdue Pharama ultimately paid about $634.5 million in civil and criminal fines.

Beginning Reform

It wasn’t until 2016 that the CDC released guidelines for the treatment of individuals with chronic pain that avoided addictive opioids. The recommendation included prescribing over the counter pain relievers like acetaminophen instead of drugs like OxyContin.

Donald Trump announces a National Emergency over the Opioid Crisis
A State of Emergency

Most recently President Trump issued a state of National Emergency about the Opioid Crisis in 2017. Unfortunately, as of the writing of this article in 2019, his administration has yet to release any type of plan. Many have criticized Mr. Trump and his administration for failing to legitimately address the problem despite acknowledging its existence.

What do you think of the Opioid Crisis? Let us know in the comments below or on social media.

Madeleine Hettich
Madeleine Hettich is a graphic designer, writer, illustrator, and comic book artist. After graduating with a BFA degree (with an emphasis in Visual Communications Design) from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she worked as a freelance illustrator and graphic designer before being hired by GREY. She continues to develop independent illustration and comics projects in her own time. This background gives her a unique perspective when writing about any number of topics.

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