Opium has been discovered in the Mesopotamia region from 3400 B.C. The Greek, Roman, Persian, Sumerian, Assyrian, Egyptian, Indian, Minoan, and Arab Empires all made widespread use of opium. Opium is the plant in which opiates derive from. Since ancient times, opium was used for it's therapeutic, medicinal, and surgical effects according to many ancient medical texts. In China, the recreational use of opium began in the 15th century, but was rare and expensive. Opium became a regular trade by the 17th century when it was introduced by the Dutch from Java in the 17th century in which opium was mixed with tobacco for smoking. This was the first time when opiates addictive qualities were recognized.
By the late 1700's, the British East India Company had majority control of the world's opium supply. They had created a monopoly by controlling the Indian poppy growing regions and dominated the Asian Opium trade.
German pharmacist Friedrich W. Sertyrner isolated and described the principal alkaloid and powerful active ingredient in opium in 1805. He named it Morphium after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. This drug is known as Morphine today. In 1832, Codeine was discovered by Pierre-Jean Robiquet. In 1852 Alexander Wood invented the first hypodermic syringe which provided a platform for injection of the pure forms of alkaloids to be administered to the blood stream. This invention greatly affected the surgical world and was able to administer exact amounts of the opiates for medicinal use.
Opium began being used as a recreational drug in the late 18th century in China. The Chinese Emperor banned the use of opium but widespread use ensued due to the addictive qualities. He petitioned the help of Queen Victoria but was ignored. Foreign Opium traders were detained and the British retaliated by invading the port city of Canton. This began the first Opium War in which the Chinese were defeated. In the loss of the war they gave up ownership of Hong Kong to the British.
In America, the use of Morphine was widespread during the Civil War. In 1866 the Secretary of War stated that during the war the Union Army was issued 10 million opium pills, over 2,840,000 ounces of other opiate preparations, and almost 30,000 ounces of morphine sulphate. The inevitable result was opium addiction, called the 'army disease' or the 'soldier's disease. The massive amount of addiction cases had scientists searching for non-addictive pain killer alternatives.
In 1898, Bayer Pharmaceutical Company announced the creation of 3,6-diacetylmorphine also known as Heroin. Heroin was 3 times the strength of Morphine but was thought to be non-addictive. It was most widely used successfully as a cough suppressant from patients suffering from tuberculosis. After a small amount of time it became obvious that Heroin was highly addictive, more so than Morphine. In 1914, United States Congress passed the Harrison Narcotics Act, which made it illegal to possess medicinal opium, morphine, heroin, cocaine, and any new derivative that could be shown to have similar properties.
Today, the same issues with opiates that caused deaths and wars for thousands of years still ring true. Opiates are highly addictive and though they have great medicinal properties they are still abused today just as they were thousands of years ago.