Painkillers are an inspired discovery. They’re a savior in a time of desperate need. But they can also be the gateway to a life of addiction and possible overdose. Painkillers of various forms have been around and will be around for a very long time. Their history is rife with danger, but their future may not be so bleak.
Read on for more details on the past, present, and future of painkillers.
Opioids have been used for pain relief for ages. Ancient civilizations discovered that if you grind down the opium poppy and take it as medication, it relieves pain, thus creating the drug opium. Opium brought about many different painkillers used over the years.
Laudanum was a common form of painkiller in the sixteenth century. It was derived from the opium poppy and prepared in an alcoholic solution to create an effective pain reliever and euphoria inducer. Codeine is another less powerful drug made from the opium poppy. It was first made in the early nineteenth century in France by Jean-Pierre Robiquet. It was mostly used as a cough remedy.
Morphine is the most common form of painkiller administered by doctors today, and it’s also the most active ingredient in opium. It wasn’t extracted from opium in its pure form and used in professional settings until the nineteenth century when it was used for pain medication primarily during the Civil War.
Due to its strength, morphine is extremely addictive, which is shown by the millions who were addicted to opium throughout history. Soldiers in the Civil War became addicted in an attempt to relieve pain and escape from reality. There is also evidence of opium dens in the cheap sides of numerous cities, dating back as early as the fifteenth century.
Opium also started what is known as the First Opium War in the early 1800s. The recreational use of opium had grown so much and was so rampant that it began a war between Britain and China in an attempt to stop the drug traffic.
Following this war and several other cases of opium overdose, the United States took action. At the beginning of the 20th century, the recreational use of opium was banned in the United States and law officials have been fighting the illicit use of opiates ever since.
Today, opiates are used in clinical settings for the control of pain. The Food and Drug Act, in conjunction with law enforcement, have put certain rules in place to ensure that the opiates stay in a clinical setting. Still, the war rages on as more and more illicit opiates are spread among the population and more and more people are becoming addicted.
Current statistics from the UN News Center show that more than 70,000 people die from opiate overdose every year. Millions of people are addicted to these painkillers, but according to the WHO, only 10 percent receive treatment.
In an attempt to help reduce addiction to opiates, the WHO has recommended administering naloxone to patients who are likely to become addicted to strong painkillers. Naloxone, in combination with special training for drug administrators, has proven to reduce the power of addiction on those who take painkillers for medicinal purposes.
Though it’s a small step in the war on drug use, it is a major move in the right direction, helping to reduce the number of people who become addicted from use of prescribed painkillers.
Though naloxone is an important step toward limiting addiction to painkillers, the progress doesn’t end there. According to this article, Cara Therapeutics, a drug company based out of Connecticut, has been developing an opioid based drug known as CR845, which is supposed to be much less addictive than traditional opium based drugs. The drug is supposed to work on different nerve endings without entering the brain and causing addiction.
With the help of studies and laboratories around the world, the search for non addictive painkillers continues. Scientists at Icagen and Pfizer, a biotech firm and a major pharmaceutical company respectively, have been studying the ways that sodium ions travel to let the brain know that the body is experiencing pain. They are working on a medication that will close the gateways to the brain, thus stopping pain in its tracks. This form of painkiller will attack the sodium ion channel rather than the nerve endings, which will hopefully reduce the risk of addiction from these painkillers.
Each of these cases is just a start, and they won’t eliminate opioids entirely, but if non-addictive painkillers really are in our future, they could drastically reduce the horrible overdose statistics. While pain is certainly a part of life past, present, and future, hopefully someday soon addiction to painkillers will be something of the past.
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