|Morphine was first isolated in 1803, and its use as a painkiller took off in the 1850s. In a quest to find a less-addictive alternative, researchers began working on isolating other parts of the plant. Diamorphine was found in 1874, before Germany’s Bayer Pharmaceutical created a painkiller nearly three times as potent as morphine. Bayer called the drug heroin, coined after the German word heroisch, which meant “strong and heroic.”|
Heroin was just as habit-forming as morphine, and even more addictive. The company was forced to pull it from shelves in 1913. Researchers turned to the third element of the Persian poppy – thebaine – and ended up creating oxycodone in 1916. While morphine is a natural derivative of the Persian poppy, heroin and oxycodone are chemically modified versions of the plant’s narcotic properties. Like all opioids, the most dangerous side effect was its depressive effect on the respiratory system. Patients who took too much would simply stop breathing.