Oh, You Have A Cough? Here Take Some Heroin

Samuel Reason | December 26th, 2017

It sounds crazy, but there was a time when Heroin was a commonly prescribed medicine by doctors to treat everything from coughs to headaches!

Imagine that, you are in the office and have to inject yourself with heroin because you had a headache. Luckily for us, medicine has moved on and now we have the over-the-counter magic known as paracetamol or ibuprofen. Still, it does paint a funny picture, to think that what we see know as hard drugs were once a widely used medicine!

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It was known as Bayer’s heroin and was manufactured by Bayer Pharmaceutical Products. They marketed it as the cheapest product to treat coughs like bronchitis, phthisis or whooping cough. What is even more amazing it was actually even promoted to use on children as well!

When you think about Bayer company today, they are mostly known as for creating the wonder drug known as Aspirin. Probably they want us just to remember that! Yet they are actually also the creators of heroin. They were researching into a medicine that could be used as a cough suppressant that did not have bad side effects, at the time people used morphine or codeine which was known to be addictive. And if it also relieved pain? That was just seen as a bonus.

They sold this drug by the boatloads starting in 1898, under the name Heroin, mainly because initial test patients informed them it made them feel heroic. This surely should have raised some concerns? No flags were raised though and millions of free samples were sent to doctors. By 1899, they were producing over a ton of heroin a year. Imagine that today a legitimate pharmaceutical company producing a class A drug. Yet just a year later wide reports of addiction were surfacing all over the United States. Even so, the American Medical Association gave heroin a stamp of approval, allowing millions to buy the dangerous drug over the counter.

It took another seven whole years of wide reports of addiction and abuse before heroin was finally restricted to 1914 prescription only. And up until 1924 before it was banned completely by the FDA! Yet Bayer Pharmaceuticals had already gotten out of the heroin production industry in 1913, which does seem to give us a melancholy look into the corporate world of the 20th century. A time where it seems big powerful companies operated however they wanted and sold anything, no matter what the consequences were to the masses.

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