Abuse of opiates

Visualization of narrower problems
Opium abuse
Opium is used as an important raw material for the licit manufacture of morphine, codeine and their derivatives. Unfortunately, it is also the raw material for the illicit production of heroin, the abuse of which has reached alarming proportions world-wide. In addition to the traditional poppy sources, poppy straw is now emerging as a new drug of abuse. Opiates can be obtained from the straw and smokes, usually in a tobacco mixture. Whilst this has not, as yet, created a significant problem, some states in the USA have already enacted legislation and regulations.

Both the medical and dependence-producing properties of opium are derived from its main constituents, morphine and codeine. These two substances, together with morphine-like substances of synthetic origin, have taken over opium's therapeutic role. Both the natural and the synthetic groups of narcotics include substances with varying degrees of desirable and undesirable effects, all of which are abused as prescription and non-prescription drugs to some degree.

Opium is the coagulated juice from the unripe capsule of the poppy plant ([Papaver somniferum]), which contains 10% morphine. It grows in temperate and subtropical climates and appear to have originated in the eastern Mediterranean region about 5,000 years ago. Its use spread rapidly to Persia, Egypt, China and Europe, where the "panacea laudanum" praised by Philippus Paracelsus, the sixteenth century alchemist and physician, was a preparation of opium. The value of its medical application, as well as its non-medical use, continue to spread, especially in poppy producing areas, and it became a popular treatment for various diseases.

It was the international concern over the abuse of opium and the opioids that led to the formulation of the first international treaty on narcotics control -- the [International Opium Convention], signed at The Hague in 1912 (coming into force in 1915). Synthetic opiates with strong morphine-like effects were developed in the late 1930's, with a view to obtaining a strong but non-addictive analgesic which could be used to alleviate pain. Several synthetic alternatives now exist, but scientific research continues to seek an effective analgesic that produces all the beneficial effects of morphine and its derivatives without causing dependency.

(E) Emanations of other problems