Heroin’s Devastation: A 100-Year-Old Problem That Won’t Go Away

Heroin was hailed as a wonder drug at the turn of the 20th century. First synthesized in England in 1874 and trademarked and sold commerically by the Bayer pharmaceutical company starting in 1898, the drug was aggressively marketed as a “non-addictive” painkiller and cough suppressant. It was even touted as a cure for morphine addiction. By 1899, Bayer was producing about a ton a year, but there were increasing reports of patients becoming addicted, and by 1913, Bayer withdrew Heroin from the market.

The Post began reporting on the problems of drug addiction beginning in the 1800s, observing as early as 1872 that it afflicted “all classes of society, from the lady of Fifth Avenue to John Chinaman of Baxter Street.”

An Exaltation of Consciousness

The word heroin is derived from the word hero, because when the drug was first discovered, it was observed that the person taking it, or to whom it was administered, experienced an exaltation of consciousness in which he imagined himself capable of heroic action. To him nothing seemed impossible. …

Chemists, alas, are not of necessity moralists or psychologists, and in their quest for substances to relieve human suffering often fail to look ahead to the possibility of increasing human misery or wrongdoing. In the case of heroin they summoned a genie from their bottle which defies both them and the forces of organized society to put it back. …

—“Heroin Heroes” by Rex. H. Lampman, September 20, 1924

Forget You Have a Son

I am the mother of a 19-year-old boy. To me, he is handsome, gifted, understanding — my whole world. Yesterday I was told, “Mrs. B., you’d better forget you have a son.” You see, my son is a drug addict. It has taken me three years to learn to face that fact and live with it. If my story helps some other parent, perhaps the telling will help me to sleep at night.

—“My Son Is a Dope Addict,” as told to Cameron Cornell, January 26, 1952

Drugs Are Everywhere

One of the most extraordinary aspects of the new suburban drug kick is the availability of the drugs themselves. “They’re like water,” said a teenage boy from suburban Los Angeles. “You don’t have any trouble getting them. You can practically figure every one of the kids in school who has something or can get it for you pretty quick.”

—“Dope Invades the Suburbs” by Robert P. Goldman, April 4, 1964

She Was from a Good Family

It was a typically shoddy Southern California beach motel, pseudo-Brasilia in architecture, and the paint was peeling from the door of Room No. 8. Inside, the police hoped, was a heroin addict they wanted. Al, a plainclothes cop, had a search warrant, and he nodded to the sullen motel owner, who opened the door with his passkey. A blonde girl in Capri pants was lying on the filth-strewn floor. She could not have been more than 14 years old. Her eyes were blank and her fingers clawed at the figures in the design of the linoleum. “I guess the hype got away,” Al said. The “hype,” police slang for a heroin addict, was a middle-aged man with whom the 14-year-old girl had been living. Just eight months before, I learned, the girl had been a normal, healthy high-school freshman from a good family — until a schoolmate introduced her to drugs. Now she began to tremble violently where she lay in a pool of her own sweat and vomit. Then her eyes closed. “Wiped out,” Al said.

—“The Thrill-Pill Menace” by Bill Davidson, December 4, 1965