A Brief History of Painkiller Abuse

poppy plants for opium

Americans’ problems with pain meds go back a century or more for medicinal purposes as well as recreational. The primary ingredient in the substances comes from the poppy plant which has been around for thousands of years. The active ingredient in painkillers is the drug Morphine. The majority of the drug comes from the continent of Asia.

Painkillers have a rich history as one drug, opium has been the substance forming many others. Nearly every prescription painkiller and illicit opiate is derived from the drug. What is most interesting is that there are legal forms of the substance used in America every day.

The Painkiller History Explained

heroin bottle

During the 1700’s the drug was made into a solution and many used it orally as a painkiller. And as time went on it was one of the primary means of numbing pain during the wars to follow in the United States. From morphine, many other medications derived. Codeine was the next in line, used as a cough syrup.

During the 1800s, major trafficking of the drug occurred throughout the world leading to the “Opium War” where the country of China was trying to stop trafficking of the substance. The drug heroin was created by chemists in the late 1800’s. The drug soon became a major problem across the world.

In the early 1900s opium was made illegal in the United States. However, in nearly 1937 Methadone was created as a powerful painkiller that was used during surgeries. Over the last century, opium trafficking has continued to increase. This became an even greater problem after the Taliban formed and attacked the United States on 9-11.


During this same time, American pharmaceutical companies were putting out various forms of painkillers faster than most could keep track of. There was the release of Oxycontin which ended up being one of the most abused drugs on the market. Before that oxycodone was the drug of popularity. There were also various forms of the oxycodone pill like hydrocodone, Vicoden, Percocet, and Lortab.

As more and more painkillers were released, more and more American’s started to abuse them. The national statistics reported an epidemic with over 8 million people mis-using the substances. At the same time use rates for heroin dropped. However, in recent times many prescription pain pill users have ended up on heroin.

Narconon Drug Help Explains How The Problem Occurs

Like all other drugs, painkillers are extremely addictive. They modify the natural reward system in the brain. They also create a physical dependence where the body feels a need to take the drug. Those using painkillers for an extended period of time develop moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms which include nausea, vomiting, insomnia, muscle pain, bone pain, headaches, shaking, dizziness and severe mood swings.

Mentally one feels depressed, has major anxiety and even suicidal thoughts when they come off of the drugs. The physical and mental issues combined cause the person to not be able to stop using painkillers.

In some cases, a painkiller addict may need a medical detox program. This is a decision that is determined by a doctor. Following this, a stay in a long-term drug rehabilitation program is required. Centers that deliver 70 days of treatment or more and the most successful.

The drug Narconon program has had success with freeing people from painkiller addiction. The program uses a sauna method, as well as teaches clients skills to deal with the mental and emotional components of the problem.

For more information on painkiller abuse or to get someone help, contact us today.


Sue Birkenshaw

Sue has worked in the addiction field with the Narconon network for three decades. She has developed and administered drug prevention programs worldwide and worked with numerous drug rehabilitation centers over the years. Sue is also a fine artist and painter, who enjoys traveling the world which continues to provide unlimited inspiration for her work. You can follow Sue on Twitter, or connect with her on LinkedIn.