History of Heroin

The current opioid crisis has brought new attention to heroin and other derivatives of the opium poppy plant. You have probably heard that overdoses using heroin and similar prescription drugs, such as fentanyl, are rising the in the US to epidemic levels. However, you may not be familiar with the country’s history with heroin.

Types of Heroin

Heroin is a Schedule 1 narcotic that is synthesized from opium, and it is considered to be highly addictive and hazardous to human health. Some common versions of the drug look like white powder, brown powder, or a black sticky slime, but they are better known by their street names, such as black tar, china white, horse, and smack. Not only are their appearance different, so is their origin:

  • White Heroin A white powdery form that easily dissolves in water and usually comes from Southeast Asia. This version is known to be highly acidic.
  • Light Brown Heroin – Sometimes better described as “off-white,” this type of heroin comes from Columbia in a powder form that is also easy to dissolve in water.
  • Brown Heroin – This version of heroin is more crude and is not as powdery as white heroin, although it still comes from Southeast Asia. Because of its chemical properties, it does not dissolve well in water and does not respond to heat.
  • Black Heroin – Most typically produced in Mexico, this form of heroin is a solid and contains more impurities than the other types. It can be ingested by applying heat, turning it into a liquid or a vapor.

The most common method of consuming heroin in the United States is by inhaling it in a powder form, although other cultures tend to prefer smoking it.

Presence in the United States

Heroin was invented in 1874, but cultures have been using the poppy plant for thousands of years. Mesopotamians and Sumerians are thought to have been some of the first civilizations to use cultivate and use opiates, and from there, the tradition spread to other cultures, including the Greeks, Persians, and Indians.

During the late 1700s, the British Empire used opium plants as trade currency for Chinese tea. It wasn’t until the 1800s that doctors became concerned about the addictive properties of opium, as millions of Chinese began to abuse the substance. As a result, the First and Second Opium Wars occurred in China, but opium imports resumed in 1856.

Not much later, in 1874, Charles Wright first synthesized heroin from morphine, and it became commercially available in 1898 when Bayer began to recommend the drug as a cough suppressant and pain reliever. The goal was to replace morphine with a less addictive substance, but heroin was soon discovered to be even worse, and the substance was outlawed under the Heroin Act of 1924. Since then, the use of heroin has gone underground with criminal enterprises still smuggling the drug into the United States borders. Currently, heroin addiction is responsible for over 27,000 deaths each year, nearly a 500% increase since 1999.