The Medical History of Pain Killers

The addiction to opioid painkillers has currently reached epidemic proportions in the United States, and sadly, there is no end in sight for this healthcare crisis. The US addiction problem began soaring out of control after prescription painkillers like Oxycontin and Vicodin became more readily available via medical professionals. The thought, originally, was that these time-release painkillers wouldn’t prove highly addictive, but the opposite is true. Many users discovered that by crushing up the pills they could be used in powder form that could be injected or snorted for a massive “high.” This use has led to a major painkiller addiction problem in today’s generation, as users snort these narcotics, or turned to heroin for an even cheaper “high.”

While the story of painkiller addiction spreading throughout society is a relatively new one, the history of pain medicine goes back thousands of years, likely

The medical history of painkillers

Problems with addiction to painkillers didn’t just come out of nowhere. There is a long history of people depending on pain killing herbs and medications to deal with pain and also as a recreational way to escape reality. Early civilizations using pain killers range from the ancient Egyptians, who put eels over wounds to ease the pain, to the ancient Greeks, who used pieces of willow bark (which is the source of the acid used in aspirin) to help ease the pain of women in childbirth. By the 19th century, morphine, which is extracted from poppies, was finally distilled into a pure form for medical use, which soon led to a great dependency on the drug by the 1830s.

The effectiveness of these drugs for pain relief led to further experimentation with them for medical uses. Heroin was developed in the 1800s as a possible alternative to morphine, in the hope that it would be less addictive. Ironically, however, heroin ended up being even more addictive than morphine, and its current use (which is illegal) is a large part of the terrible epidemic in addiction we are seeing today.

Opium banned in the US

The huge problem with addiction to morphine and then heroin lead to a ban on opium (the chemical taken from poppies, from which these drugs are derived) in 1905. The addiction to opium had lead to a large trade in the drug, as demand for the painkiller rose with its use by addicts and recreational users.

Another drug that was developed as a painkiller is methadone. The drug was created in a lab in Germany in 1937 in the hopes of creating an effective painkiller for surgery. Once again, the scientists inadvertently created a highly addictive drug that led to more social problems and a higher rate of addiction.

Today there is a wide range of painkillers being used for medical purposes. Some are non-addictive, like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and

acetaminophen. The wide range of painkillers that are opioid-based, like Vicodin and Oxycontin, however, are very controlled for medical purposes, as they have been found to be highly addictive. Many people who start using these medicines after an injury find themselves hooked on the drugs, and must go through withdrawal to escape. Oftentimes, these individuals rely on help, either through use of kratom, professional rehab clinics, or a combination of treatments in order to shake the dependence on these medications.

There’s no doubt that on some level, humans have a need to use drugs to kill pain, and to escape certain aspects of reality. As rehab professionals deal with the current epidemic in addiction, the reality of human dependence on drugs must be addressed if the problem is to be brought under control.

Photo by KJGarbutt