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Opium/Heroin Timeline

3500 BC The Sumerians, of lower Mesopotamia, are the first culture known to have used opium. Their name for "poppy" translates to "flower of joy"--a name that almost certainly indicates that opium was used recreationally.

1300 BC Egyptians cultivate poppies for the production of opium. The opium produced is much desired, and is distributed throughout the region--it is transported as far away as Greece and even into central Europe.

460 BC The great Greek physician, Hippocrates ("the father of medicine"), writes about the usefulness of opium in curing a number of diseases, especially diarrhea.

330 BC Opium is introduced to Persia and India by Alexander the Great.

400 Egyptian opium is introduced to China by Arab traders.

1300 Around this time, opium becomes a taboo in the European Christian churches because of its link to the east. It remains more or less an unmentionable subject for 200 years. But in truth, our present day laws against opium date back to this period.

1500 The Portuguese begin the practice of smoking opium.

1527 Laudanum is introduced as a medicinal drug by Paracelsus.

1606 Indian opium is imported into England.

1680 Sydenham's Laudanum (mostly a combination of sherry and opium) is introduced onto the market. It is one of the first patent medicines.

1700 Opium smoking is introduced to the Chinese by Dutch traders.

1729 The emperor of China, Yung Cheng, prohibits opium smoking and the sale of opium except by those licensed to do so for the use of medicine.

1753 Linnaeus first classifies and names Papaver somniferum.

1780-1800 The British East India Company has a near monopoly on the opium trade in India and China due to its political influence.

1729 The emperor of China, Kia King, bans opium.

1803 Friedrich Sertuerner isolates morphine from opium--this is the first alkaloid to be isolated from a medicinal plant. It was named after Morpheus, the Greek god of sleep.

1821 Thomas DeQuincey publishes Confessions of an English Opium Eater.

1827 Commercial manufacture of morphine is begun by the German chemical company E. Merck & Company.

1839 The Imperial Commissioner of China orders all foreign traders to give up their opium. In response, the British send warships. This marked the beginning of the First Opium War.

1841 The Chinese lose the First Opium War; the British gain, in addition to other things, Hong Kong.

1843 The hypodermic syringe is invented by Dr. Alexander Wood.

1852 Britain begins importing opium into Burma.

1856 The Second Opium War is started and ended. As a result, opium is legalized in China.

1874 Diacetylmorphine HCl (better known by its brand name "heroin") is invented in England by C.R.A. Wright. This is done by combining morphine and acetic anhydride, a weak acid chemically similar to vinegar. His results are published in the Journal of the Chemical Society, though his theoretical understanding of the new molecule was incomplete and incorrect.

1874 Opium smoking is banned in San Francisco. This was one of the first anti-opium laws aimed primarily at marginalizing the Chinese population of California.

1874 The Society for the Suppression of the Opium Trade was founded in England.

1878 Britain passes the Opium Act--a largely racist act that determined how (and if) one might use opium depending upon one's ethnic background.

1881 Codeine is isolated from opium.

1886 The British acquire the Shan State of Burma in their attempt to enforce an opium monopoly there. Despite this, the black market in opium thrives, as it does today.

1886 The United States outlaws the importation of opium by any subject of China.

1890 The United States begins taxing opium and morphine.

1890 Hearst newspapers begin publishing the fiction of white women being seduced by Chinese men in opium dens. Although we laugh at such obvious lies today, the newspaper coverage of drugs is really no better today. Take, for example, recent mainstream media statements that Kurt Cobain died of a "heroin-related suicide" or that River Phoenix is another of "heroin's well-known victims." Such statements, which are false, are simply accepted because "everyone knows" that heroin kills people, just as everyone knew, in 1890, that Chinese men were trapping white women with opium so that they could take sexual advantage of them.

1890 The German chemist W. Dankwortt re-synthesized Diacetylmorphine HCl and performs experiments that provide much great understanding of its chemistry than was provided by the Wright work.

1898 Heinrich Dreser of the German chemical company Bayer publishes the results of his experiments on the use of Diacetylmorphine HCl as a cough suppressant. Bayer names the drug "heroin" and begins commercial production.

1898 Bayer begins sale of Diacetylmorphine HCl under the brand name "Heroin"

1905 Congress passes the Pure Food and Drug Act which requires patent medicines to label their contents.

1909 The importation of opium into the United States is made illegal. This led directly to the opium smokers turning to heroin "snorters".

1909 The International Opium Commission meets in Shanghai to discuss the evils of opium.

1910 The English agree to stop the importing opium into China.

1912 Maintenance clinics that provided drugs to addicts began to open in the United States.

1914 The Harrison Narcotics Act is passed by Congress. Nominally a tax act, it effectively makes opium and cocaine illegal and stands as the principal drug law of the United States for 55 years.

1914 As a result of the passage of the Harrison Narcotics Act, the street price of an ounce of heroin increases from $6.50 to $100.00 (1500%) while the purity falls leading addicts to switch from "snorting" to injecting.

1921 Maintenance clinics are closed because of rising drug hysteria.

1924 United States Congress passes a bill by Stephen G. Porter that banned the production of heroin. The hearings for the bill contained the usual hysteria disguised as science. A particularly egregious example was entered into the public record without question, "Heroin contains, physiologically, the double action of cocaine and morphine."

1925 The structure of morphine is determined by Gulland and Robinson.

1930s The majority of heroin imported to the United States comes from China--refined in Shanghai and Tietsin.

1940s Heroin importation is greatly limited due to the war. 1950 United States heroin distribution changes. Turkish opium is converted to heroin in Marseille. This distribution channel remains dominant until the mid-1970s.

1956 The United States Federal Government outlaws the use of heroin for all purpose. It could no longer be prescribed.

1970 The "Controlled Substances Act" is passed. It replaces the Harrison Narcotics Act as the primary drug law in the United States. This also marks the beginning of "no-knock entry"--the use of military style attacks on the homes of suspected draw law violators

1972 The Golden Triangle becomes an important source of heroin.

1973 (July 1) The United States creates the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

1975 Mexico enters the heroin market.

1978 Golden Crescent becomes an important heroin source.

1990 Columbia becomes the most important heroin importer to the United States--almost over night.

by Dr. H © 2001
Last Modified: 8 January 2004