The world has witnessed many forms of development ever since it embraced civilization. These significant developments dictate a lot on human lives on a daily basis. In this case study, we will address one of the fields that came with development in medicine and science in our society. We will address opiates as one of these developments, their history as well as their effects in our society. To understand this topic better, we need to understand what opiates are. In definition, opiates have been accorded a medicinal definition since they play a very significant role in the field of medicine today (Kleber, 2003). Therefore, the terminology opiates is used to describe alkaloids that are naturally found in the opium poppy plant (Harris, 2005). Opiates have been used by man extensively for a very long time. In fact, the very first use of opiates is believed to date back from as early as the Neolithic period (Harris, 2005). Mankind is believed to have first cultivated this plant for medicinal use in Europe. To be precise, it is believed that that the first serious mankind cultivation of the opium poppy plant is in the region that now stands to be known as Switzerland.

Other than for medicinal value, research shows that settlers who lived in this region had also discovered the narcotic effect of the plant.  In the third century, stories about a powerful drug, opium, that could be extracted from the poppy plant found its way to the Greek cultural writings. This marked the first historical mention of the plant in any written work as well as marked as the turning point for the plants popularity (Santella, 2007). This work is found in the writings of a Greek philosopher who went by the name of Theophrastus in the third century B.C. The opium poppy plant later found its way to the Far East part of the world during the 15th and the 16th century. It was usually given to these Arabs by the early settlers of the Switzerland plains as a trade commodity, while others gave it as a souvenir after peaceful trade. Later on, the rest of Europe later came to learn of this plant which was used to cure many psychological problems as well as other incomprehensible illnesses (Lowinson et al, 1997). Therefore, the plant spread to the rest of Europe rapidly, with medicine men seeking it for its curative value.

The scientific name for this poppy plant is papaver somniferum. Since opiates occur in natural form in this plant, they are classified under the benzylisoquinoline group. This is a very wide group of biosynthetic alkaloids which exist naturally. There are different types of opiate which are found in this poppy plant. However, the major psychoactive ones and which seem to attract scientists attention are; codeine,   thebaine and morphine (Brink et al, 2003). There are others that exist although they have proven to have insignificant effects on the Central Nervous System (CNS) of the human body. Due to their insignificance, some scientists prefer not to look at them as opiates. Noscapine and papaverine are the best examples of these inactive products of the poppy plant among many others (Santella, 2007). There are other products that are got from these opiates and scientists prefer looking at them as semi-synthetic opiods. Examples include; hydromorphone, oxymorphone, oxycodone and hydrocodone.

The opium poppy plant has three vital medicinal elements as mentioned above. The first one is morphine. This opiate element was successfully isolated in the year 1906, by Friedrich Serturner (Kleber, 2003). Sertuner was a scientist who wished to discover what was behind the curative, and yet the narcotic nature of this plant. Therefore, when he isolated morphine, he named it after Greek god who was referred to as Morpheus. Other scientists in this century also went in the field with effort of confirming Serturner result, and in the process, papaverine and codeine were also successfully isolated. This was the first breakthrough that took place in investigating the medicinal value in the opium poppy plant. As a result, doctors switched from extracting the whole plants elements for medicine, and in results used these three elements in their practice. Morphine was the most common element in the medicinal field as its isolation and painkilling effects spread rapidly across Europe. This made it the most sought drug in the whole of Europe with even other scientists seeking for the best means of administering the drug in human body. As a result, the first hypodermic needle was invented to facilitate its administration in the middle of this century.

During the 19th century, the Chinese who came to build the railway line in the US brought with them the opium poppy plant (Santella, 2007). They used this plant for its narcotic effects and also for its medicinal value. In fact, history shows us that opium was used to ease pain for the injured during the American civil war. The most ironical bit of this situation was that when a person became addicted to the plant, doctors used to recommend morphine as a prescription of curbing the addiction. The united states later looked for means of trying to curb the non-medicinal use of opium at the end if 19th century. However, it was not until 1909, when the First International Opium Conference was held (Brink et al, 2003). There were powerful states like Germany, England and the United States of America which sought to look for means of limiting the trade and production of the opium plant in attendance.

Since many nations were not as united as they are today, it took up to 1960 after the two world wars for the world to come together in unity, to curb the non-medicinal use if opium. This was after the United Nations formed the U.N Commission of Narcotic Drugs, since it had been given the mandate of policing opium and all the other narcotics worldwide (Brink et al, 2003). There were more than 40 powerful countries in attendance in this convention, meaning that at last the world had come together for the same course. This convention replaced all other initial treaties, and member states swore to restrict use of opium to just medicinal and scientific research only. This is because the world had come to realize the devastating addictive nature of these opiates.

Speaking of the addictive nature of these opiates, there is no better example in addressing this point other than heroin. Heroin is a prodrug of morphine element in the opium poppy plant (Kleber, 2003). Heroin is mainly produced as a white powder or black tar although nowadays it can be traded in different forms to divert attention from the authorities. The human brain has opiate receptors. This is according to a research that was carried out in the early 1970’s when scientist were studying the addictive nature of these opiates. When opiates enter the brain, they either intensify, or inhibit the neuron activity in the brain causing the “rush” which addicts experience when they administer them (Lowinson et al, 1997). There are many ways that an addict can use these opiates. It can either be through mouth administration, snorting, injection and even smoking it. However, many addicts prefer injecting themselves straight to the blood stream for this process guarantees faster reaction and immediate rush on the user (Kleber, 2003). This is caused by the immediate arrival of the opiates to the brain, and the pleasurable rush feeling is as a result of drug attaching itself to the opiate receptor cells.

Heroin has caused many negative effects in our society including; destroying futures, families, and careers as well as hindering economic development in our country (Santella, 2007). This is because, even when an addict tries to leave opiates abuse, it is not a clear cut or simple decision on the matter. Most of the persons who try to kick away the habit still find themselves backsliding to it even with deeper anticipations and cravings. Those who also abuse these opiates cannot even hold to a job or career meaning they have to resolve to desperate measure of getting money to purchase these products. Therefore, they resolve to life of crime in order to get the same. This means that our country loses many capable young men and women to these opiates, dragging our country’s economic and social developments behind (Santella, 2007). Other than heroin, other opiates like hydrocodone and oxycodone are also becoming a headache in the streets with their demand growing on a daily basis. These drugs are mostly prescriptions, and are meant for medicinal use, although they are being abused to serve other purposes. However, addicts who have already been used to heroin do not like them since they do not have a strong pleasurable rush like the latter.

Opiates can make anyone their slave even those people who thinks they can control their abuse. This is because; research has shown that brain nerve receptors tend to have adapting characteristics to the opium elements (Kleber, 2003). This means that with time, an abuser using either hydrocodone or oxycodone may not feel effect of these opiates. This is because these nerve receptors would have adapted to them, or simply in resistance, meaning an abuser would have to use a stronger dose like heroin for the same purpose. However, this does not mean that patients who have been prescribed to take either oxycodone or hydrocodone should turn them down for fear of being addicts. However, they should follow the doctors’ instructions on what to do on finishing a dosage, since there may be some withdrawal effects (Brink et al, 2003). Research has shown that these withdraw effects are manageable by balanced diets, and also following doctors’ instructions to the letter.

Once these opiates have taken over abusers’ nerve receptors, treating them becomes very challenging although it depends on the level of the drug effects, and how long an addict may have been using them (Lowinson, 1997). These opiates have short and long time effects. Short time effects include; spontaneous abortions, clouded mental state, drowsiness, pain suppression, breathing difficulties and also slow functioning of the cardiac system (Harris, 2005). The most common short time effects, however, are the pleasurable rush that an addict feels when the natural opiod receptor receives the drug. Other short time effects include; nausea, severe itching, vomiting, dry mouth effects among others. These opiates also have long time effects, some of which are impossible to reverse even if an addict stopped using and became clean (Harris, 2005). They include; HIV/AIDS infections from injection needles or irresponsible sexual intercourse, abscesses, collapsed veins and addiction (Santella, 2007). Opiates also cause other infections other than just HIV/AIDS. For example, they cause heart valves infections, and also to the lining section. Hepatitis B and C have been caused by these opiates together with other bacterial infections. These infections bring about medical complications to addicts especially to the ones who practice chronic use of these opiates (Kleber, 2003). They include; lung complications, liver and kidney diseases, HIV, clogging and collapsed veins, arthritis and Hepatitis B and C among other tissue infections.

When it comes to treating or just trying to rehabilitate an addict, it is very challenging. This is because an addict has to recognize and acknowledge that they need help something which is difficult for an addict to do. This is because most of them live in denial thinking they are in control of their actions. Family members and friends of these addicts also fear being accused of intruding to their lives so they let them be until they realize they are in need of help, something that may never happen.

When it comes to treatment, detoxification is the first step that doctors undertake after an addict recognizes that they need help. This is primarily putting the under medical supervision in a controlled environment. This is because these addicts have to go through a withdraw phase that may be characterized by tremors, muscle aches, anxiety, diarrhea, vomiting and agitation among others (Santella, 2007). These symptoms are not lives threatening per say, but they are not encouraging to an addict who is willing to quit. However, these symptoms duration seems to primarily depend on the level of addiction, and on the opiate which was used. Strong opiates like heroin withdraw symptoms’ seems to take as long as a week while weak opiates takes less (Lowinson et al, 1997). To date, there is no specific mean of detoxification for opiates addicts. However, methadone seems to be doing quite well in detoxification of addicts who are later sent to maintenance programs, in order to discourage them from going back to using the drug.

Maintenance programs are form of opiates addiction treatment. Addicts are advised to take doses of methadone treatment, which is only available in specialized clinics for fear of illicit markets cropping up. A single methadone dose stays in a patients’ blood system for a period of between 24-36 hours (Santella, 2007). Methadone use in the United States is still under political contention although it has proven to be the most effective maintenance drug. This is when methadone is compared to other maintenance means like buprenorphine and heroin.

In conclusion, I find myself in no other corner than agreeing with Harris, (2005), that opium has as many negative effects to our societies just like it has positive ones. When the opium elements were first discovered, it was intended to be used for its medicinal value. However, some disgruntled people have turned this plant into source of illegal money without caring about the many lives, careers and families they destroy in the process. I feel that it is time the world came together, and adapted graver consequences for these criminals who continue to use opium for non-medicinal gains.





Harris, N. (2005). Opiates. Farmington, MI: Greenhaven Press.

Kleber HD. “Pharmacologic Treatments for Heroin and Cocaine Dependence,” American Journal on Addictions (2003): Vol. 12, Suppl. 2, pp. S5–S18.

Lowinson JH, et al. eds. Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook, Third Edition. Williams and Wilkins, 1997.

Santella, T. M. (2007). Opium. New York: Chelsea House.

van den Brink W, et al. “Management of Opioid Dependence,” Current Opinion in Psychiatry (2003): Vol. 16, pp. 297–304.