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From the beginning: The chronology of heroin use

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Posted: Friday, November 22, 2002 10:00 pm

3400 B.C. - First historical reference to the opium poppy being cultivated in lower Mesopotamia (modern Iraq). The Sumerians refer to it as Hul Gil (joy plant). The Sumerians passed along the means of cultivating the plant and its euphoric effects to the Assyrians who, in turn, passed in on to the Babylonians, who then passed it onto the Egyptians.

1300 B.C. - The Egyptian city of Thebes becomes the drug capital of the ancient world. Customers included both the Phoenicians and the Minoans, who became middle-level dealers as the drug spread across the Mediterranean Sea to Greece, Carthage and eventually Rome.

1100 B.C. - Growing of the opium poppy moved from an Egypt in political chaos to Cyprus where the "People of the Sea" did a flourishing trade with such Greek cities as Troy.

460 B.C. - Hippocrates, "the father of medicine," downplays opium's supposed magical qualities, but confirms its use in treating a variety of diseases.

330 B.C. - While conquering everything he saw, Alexander the Great introduced opium into Persia and India.

800 A.D. - Arab traders introduce opium grown in the Egyptians fields near Thebes into China.

1300s - After more than a millennium, all records referring to opium disappear from European history for nearly two centuries. Much of this is attributed to the "Holy Inquisition" which considered anything from the East to be in league with the devil.

1527 - With the coming of the Reformation, opium is reintroduced into European medical literature as laudanum. These black pills or "Stones of Immortality" were made of opium, citrus juice and quintessence of gold and prescribed as painkillers.

1600s - It became fashionable in Persia and India to engage in the recreational consumption of opium mixtures.

1606 - Under orders of Queen Elizabeth I, agents purchased the finest Indian opium and transport it back to England.

1680 - Thomas Sydenham, an English apothecary, introduces Sydenham's Laudanum, a compound of opium, sherry wine and herbs which became a popular cure-all remedy.

1700 - The Dutch ship Indian opium to China and introduce the practice of smoking opium in a tobacco pipe to the Chinese.

1750 - The British East India Company takes over the opium-growing regions of India and dominates the smuggling of the drug into China trade which by 1767 reaches 2,000 chest per year.

1799 - China's emperor, Kia King bans the opium trade and poppy cultivation.

1800 - The British Levant Company purchases nearly half of all of the opium in Turkey for importation into Europe and the United States.

1810 - German pharmacist Friedrich Sertuerner discovers the active ingredient of opium by dissolving it in acid then neutralizing it with ammonia. The result is morphine. Physicians believe opium had finally been tamed and morphine was hailed as "God's own medicine" for its reliability, long-lasting effects and safety.

1816 - American John Jacob Astor joins the opium smuggling trade. His American Fur Company purchases 10 tons of Turkish opium then ships it to China. Astor would eventually quit the China trade in favor of selling exclusively to the British.

March 18, 1839 - In an attempt to halt the massive drug addiction of their people, Chinese officials order all foreign dealers to surrender their opium. In response, the British send warships thus beginning The First Opium War.

1840 - The U.S. Customs Service catches wind that New Englander merchants had imported 24,000 pounds of opium into the United States. The federal government immediately slapped an import fee on the drug.

1841 - The Chinese are defeated in the First Opium War and are forced to pay a huge indemnity and cede Hong Kong to the British.

1843 - Dr. Alexander Wood of Edinburgh discovers a new technique of administering morphine, injection with a syringe. The effects are instantaneous and three times more potent.

1856 - The British renew hostilities against China in the Second Opium War. China is forced to pay another indemnity and to legalize the importation of opium.

1874 - English researcher, C.R. Wright first synthesizes heroin, or diacetylmorphine, by boiling morphine over a stove. Meanwhile, smoking opium in San Francisco is banned except for the opium dens in Chinatown.

1890 - Congress, in its earliest law-enforcement legislation on narcotics, imposes a tax on opium and morphine.

1895 - Heinrich Dreser, of The Bayer Company in Germany, finds that diluting morphine with acetyls produces a drug without the common morphine side effects. Three years later, Bayer begins production and coins the name "heroin."

Early 1900s - In the U.S., the philanthropic Saint James Society begins mailing free samples of heroin to morphine addicts trying to kick their habits.

1902 - Articles in a variety of medical journals focus on the side effects of using heroin in morphine withdrawal in which it is detailed that heroin withdrawal symptoms equal those of morphine addiction.

1903 - Heroin addiction rises to alarming rates.

1905 - Congress bans opium but with no regulations to control it.

1906 - Congress passes the Pure Food and Drug Act requiring contents labeling on patent medicines by pharmaceutical companies thereby significantly reducing the availability of opiates.

Dec. 17, 1914 - The Harrison Narcotics Act aims to curb drug (especially cocaine but also heroin) use and addiction. However, it does little more than require doctors, pharmacists and others who prescribed narcotics to register and pay a tax.

1923 - The U.S. Treasury Department's Narcotics Division (the first federal drug agency) bans all narcotics sales. With the prohibition of legal venues to purchase heroin, addicts are forced to buy from illegal street dealers.

Early 1940s - During World War II, opium trade routes are blocked and the flow of opium is severely limited.

1948-1972 - Corsican crime lords dominate the U.S. heroin market through their connection with Mafia drug distributors. After refining the raw Turkish opium in Marseilles laboratories (the so-called French connection), the heroin is made easily available for purchase by junkies on the streets of America.

1950s - In an effort to contain the spread of Communism in Asia, the U.S. forms alliances with drug lords inhabiting the areas of the Golden Triangle, (an expanse covering Laos, Thailand and Burma). To maintain this relationship, the U.S. and France supply the drug lords with weapons and air transport. This results in a significant spike in the illegal flow of heroin into the United States.

1965-1970 - The combination of U.S. involvement in Vietnam and the domestic counterculture is blamed for the surge in illegal heroin use. The number of heroin addicts in the U.S. reaches an estimated 750,000.

July 1, 1973 - President Richard Nixon creates the Drug Enforcement Administration under the Justice Department.

Mid-1970s - South Vietnam falls and the export of heroin from Southeast Asia temporarily subsides. Dealers find a new source in Mexico and "Mexican Mud" replaces "China White" heroin through the rest of the '70s.

1978 - The U.S. and Mexican governments attack the poppy fields with Agent Orange drastically reducing the amount of "Mexican Mud" in the U.S. drug market - a predecessor to the so-called "Black Tar" heroin which, with the end of the defoliation efforts in 1980, would come to dominate the market in the Western United States over the next two decades. In response to these efforts, traffickers find a new source in the Golden Crescent - Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan which results in a dramatic upsurge in the production and trade of illegal heroin.

1992 - Colombia's drug lords begin introducing a high-grade form of heroin into the United States while drug traffickers in Mexico used the American highway system to transport vast quantities of "Black Tar" heroin throughout the Western States.

January 1994 - With eradication efforts remaining spotty, the Clinton Administration shifts away from the anti-drug campaigns of previous administrations towards "institution building" with the hope that "strengthening democratic governments abroad will foster law-abiding behavior and promote legitimate economic opportunity."

1995 - The Golden Triangle once again becomes the leading opium producer, yielding 2,500 tons annually. According to U.S. drug experts, there are new drug trafficking routes through Laos, into southern China, Cambodia and Vietnam.

1996-2002 - International drug traffickers in China, Nigeria, Colombia - the more traditional "China White" and Mexico with its "Black Tar" aggressively market heroin in the United States and Europe.


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