Lesson I Morphine

Drug abuse became an issue for the first time during and after the Civil War. The fact that it is not an important part of history is significant and an important lesson in itself. The problem was the abuse of morphine.

Morphine is the narcotic derived from opium, which is a product of the Asian red poppy plant. It is many times more potent than raw opium. Scientists had learned to produce the drug in the early 19th century. With the invention of the hypodermic syringe, it was widely used during the Civil War. It could then be injected directly into the bloodstream and had a potent and immediate effect.

This was obviously important as a pain reliever for severely injured soldiers. It was also used by the army to relieve diarrhea, which was rampant and debilitating.

The realities of addiction are not understood today, but people were even much more naive about it in the 19th century. Soldiers continued to use it after their physical wounds were healed. Some continued to use it for diarrhea every day for months. There were those who went on to use it to ease the terrible emotional effects of such a brutal war.

Addiction to morphine came to be known as the army disease or the soldiers disease. When doctors became aware of the addiction, they were much more cautious in its use.

Some of the veterans continued using morphine for the rest of their lives. If they were unable to overcome the addiction, they were administered measured doses and continued otherwise normal lives.

There were other people who used morphine regularly around the turn of the century. Many upstanding citizens preferred it to alcohol for relaxation and stress-relief. One of the most well known examples was Dr. John Hallsted, the founder of Johns Hopkins Hospital.

An important key is use rather than abuse. This concept has been lost with the drug war rhetoric. Just say no is simplistic, unrealistic, and ineffective.

Anyone who has had major surgery or serious injury knows the importance of morphine. Morphine has never been illegal or prohibited, but regulated and controlled by the medical profession.

History Lesson #1: Morphine has never been illegal, but has been controlled since the 19th century. It has not caused any major social problems.