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From Pain Management To Epidemic: The History Of Opioids


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The opioid epidemic may seem like a modern misfortune, but it's actually a problem the U.S. has been struggling with since before the 1900s. American federal agencies have been working to fight back against the opioid epidemic in a number of ways.

However, to avoid complications that have been made in the past while searching for a viable treatment option it's important to look back on the history of the opioid crisis.

The 1800s And Early 1900s: The Trouble With Morphine
Morphine was becoming a major problem long before the Civil War. However, much like today's opioid prescriptions, morphine gained national attention when Civil War veterans became addicted to the drug after using it for long periods of time to treat pain associated with their injuries.

It was in 1898 that the Bayer Co. attempted to create a less addictive type of morphine on a commercial scale. Unfortunately, heroin was the result of the company's clinical trials, an opioid with twice the potency of morphine and even more addictive.

Heroin was used to treat a multitude of ailments including coughs because there weren't many other options for pain relief. Doctors began avoiding opioid prescriptions by the 1920s and heroin was made illegal in 1924. Treatments for pain management continued to be studied during and after World War II.

The 1970s-1990s: The Second Wave
By the 1970s, opiate addiction had become an even greater problem. President Gerald Ford ordered the Drug Enforcement Administration to focus less on cocaine traffickers and to keep their attention on heroin.

Vicoden and Percocet came on the market by the mid-1970s and the idea of treating chronic pain with opioids became once again popular after the publication of an 11-line letter in the New England Journal of Medicine. The letter, written by Dr. Hershel Jick and Jane Porter, claimed that opioid addiction was rare.

Additional papers on the use of opioids to treat pain were also published, many of them documenting the addictive nature of the drugs. However, opioids were seen as a viable alternative to surgery.

In 1994, Purdue Pharma began testing OxyContin as a long-term painkiller and the drug went on the mark in 1996. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of painkiller prescriptions increased by 8 million between 1995 and 1996.

The Opioid Epidemic We Know Today
One of the key issues behind the opioid epidemic is access. Despite makers of opioid medications creating versions of the drugs that were harder to crush up, many patients were still abusing their medications due to pain pill addiction.

Today, doctors are avoiding the prescription of opioids. However, heroin remains a problem on America's streets and fentanyl, which has a potency 100-times that of morphine, has been sold as heroin more frequently in recent years.

Fortunately, treatment for opioid addiction exists. Compared to abstinence-based, non-medical treatments for opiate addiction which have a success rate of only 5% to 10%, methadone treatments have a success rate of 60% to 90%.

Methadone treatments have are capable of not only reducing withdrawal symptoms but also reducing the urge to use an addictive substance. To learn more about methadone treatments, contact your local methadone clinic today.

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