Opium was the original cure-all. In fact, many painkillers available by prescription today are opiates. But when abused, the drug does far more harm than good.
The earliest usage of opium traces back to 3,400 B.C., when the opium poppy was cultivated in lower Mesopotamia. Spreading along the Silk Road, opium spread across the Mediterranean and into Asia. Hippocrates, known as the father of medicine, used opium regularly in his practice, citing its sleep-inducing qualities and other health benefits. Opium was a kind of cure-all starting in ancient times, and in fact, in some parts of the world, specifically Afghanistan, still is today.
In the 19th century, one of the earliest works documenting opium addiction, an autobiography by Thomas De Quincey entitled "Confessions of an Opium Eater," was published in an era when opium consumption for recreational and medicinal use was at all-time high. Decades later, China would go to war with the British empire over the opium trade.
The dangers of addiction to opium, as well as its derivatives, morphine and heroin, was widely recognized, and in the early 20th century, these drugs are either controlled or outlawed. Heroin has seen a resurgence in the 21st century, a trend highlighted by the recent death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman.
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