Deaths from opioids — drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, fentanyl and methadone — have more than quadrupled over the last two decades, according to the CDC. But while some may think the opioid crisis in this nation is a modern problem, issues surrounding opioid addiction actually go back much further. The U.S. opioid epidemic history reaches all the way back to the Civil War, while the worldwide use of opiates extends back thousands of years.
Overdoses killed more people last year than guns or car accidents, and are doing so at an alarming pace. Whether these deaths occur due to self-inflicted harm, accidental overdose, abuse, or non-medical use — the evidence points to opioids being largely responsible for this rise in overdose deaths.
From early civilizations to today’s world, many societies around the globe have struggled with balancing the pain-relieving benefits of opioids with the addictive effects that contribute to its abuse. Let’s take a look back at the history of opioid addiction that has led to the opioid crisis that America faces today.
What Are Opioids?
Opioids are a diverse class of very strong painkillers, including oxycodone (commonly sold under the trade names OxyContin and Percocet), hydrocodone (Vicodin), and fentanyl, which are synthesized to resemble opiates such as opium-derived morphine and heroin.
Opioids are derived from the poppy plant — poppy seeds — just like the illegal narcotic, opium. As a substance, opium itself belongs to the narcotics class of drugs, commonly known for their highly potent and addictive effects and is often used for pain relief.
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