Many of the drugs that society now recognizes as dangerous to health and social order were once allowed to be legally distributed. These compounds often came from foreign lands, and their damaging effects were not well understood until the disastrous consequences began to destroy individuals and cripple families. Here’s a look at the history of some of these deadly drugs.
Opium, a compound extracted from the seeds of the poppy flower, was used for thousands of years in Asia. It was brought to America with the Chinese immigrants that came to work on the railroad lines. Opium was freely dispensed by physicians to cure a number of ills. Laudanum, a tincture of opium mixed with alcohol, was used widely throughout society for decades. Morphine, a derivative of opium, was used medicinally to relieve pain, but was also widely abused. In 1914, the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act was passed effectively outlawing the use of opium in the country.
Heroin was developed in the late 19th century as a “non-addictive” alternative to morphine. However, it soon became evident that this claim was untrue. It was severely restricted in 1920, but by that time, thousands of heroin addicts were found in the U.S., and the compound continued to be a street drug for many decades. Today, heroin use has spread outside of urban areas to suburban and rural communities.
Cocaine, a derivative made from the leaves of the coca plant, was used for thousands of years in South America for both religious rituals and as a commonly used stimulant. Coca leaves were even used in the original formula of Coca Cola during the 1880s. As the destructive effects of cocaine use became known, prohibitions against its use became more widespread. Cocaine became legally regulated under the Harrison Act of 1914.
Methamphetamine was developed by a Japanese chemist in 1893 and was permitted for use for a variety of medical conditions, including mild depression, alcoholism and allergies. It was a component of many legal decongestant medications for many years. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, its use began to be strictly regulated because of the potential for abuse of the substance.
Marijuana was not always illegal in the United States. In fact, Virginia farmers were required to grow native hemp for textiles during the 1600s. In 1937, federal laws restricted the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, and the 1950s, further legislation made it unlawful to possess or distribute it.
It was only after the damaging effects of these deadly drugs on the individual and society that efforts were made to restrict their use. When these laws were passed, the process of addiction was not understood as an illness and effective treatment for addiction was non-existent. Today, inpatient treatment can provide intensive help for addiction to deadly drugs, with supported detoxification, counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy and aftercare to help individuals prevent relapse and resume their normal lives.