Heroin, morphine, and other opiates trace their origins to a single plant known as opium poppy. Chances are everyone has at least seen morphine in action at least in movies or has read about it in war books. But there is still so much to discover and learn about morphine which can help us better understand the present crisis and prepare for the future.
Morphine first saw the light of day in the 1800s, in Germany when a pharmacist named Friedrich Sertürner managed to isolate the active ingredient from opium poppies. He then went ahead and named his discovery after the Greek god of dreams and sleep, Morpheus. It was years before it actually became medically accessible, but when it did, it had a substantial impact. By looking back at the U.S. Civil War for instance, the threat was there and should have raised a lot of concerns. Morphine was widely used to help soldiers with their pain and as result at least 400,000 became addicted. But science did the contrary: it searched for a so-called less addictive form of morphine which everyone knows as heroin. The drug was intended as a safe replacement. And for a little while it worked. It was used in hospitals and pharma companies even used it as a cough syrup ingredient. By then it was too late and the numbers of addicts and overdoses already started skyrocketing all around North America and Europe.
Fast-forwarding to Canada 1992, an Ontario-based clandestine pharma company was seeking patent for an invention they claimed to have the potential of transforming pain management. And it was awarded one under the name of OxyContin. This would be the beginning of what everyone thought to be a blockbuster drug being the most popular long-acting painkiller in Canada for over 10 years and even one of the most important medicines to hit the market. As we all know, that did not go as planned and thousands of people got hooked.
Nowadays, a report on opioid use in Canada found that almost 15% of the general population over 15 years old admitted to having used opioids including hydromorphone, morphine and Oxycodone. While over 2% of the general population reported abusing prescription opioids. Not surprisingly, Canada alone consumed almost 7% of the world’s share of morphine in 2016.
And it goes without saying how profound the implications are. Just last year, over 1,850 babies were born with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS) which is caused by opioid withdrawal. The disease occurs when the mother consumes opioids such as morphine and codeine during pregnancy. When faced with these situations, hospital staff typically treat the new-born using a small dose of morphine administered every four to six hours and the process can last for weeks with long-term implications for both the mother and the child.
Canada has reached a point where a joint effort is the only way to fight this and rehabilitation clinics play now a more important role than ever. Far from fitting the stereotype of places where the rich and famous ‘go on vacation’, facilities can be accessible to anyone who is suffering from addiction and help save the lives of many. And this is an important decision and a first step and it may just as well be the first time in a long time someone feels like they are in control. It might seem like a small step for mankind, but it’s a giant leap for a man. Particularly those who have been battling addiction for years and have witnessed the devastating impact it had on their lives.
Morphine addiction is extremely intricate. Both because how the drug actions and how withdrawal manifests itself. Symptoms will range from mild to severe depending on the user’s habits and can include anything from anxiety, chills, cramps, increased heartbeat, joint and muscle pain, insomnia, nausea or fatigue. When trying to go off morphine, it is highly advisable to do it under specialized supervision as the detox process is bound to be challenging. Mitigating side effects as best as possible is exactly the support a person going through this needs.
It’s probably best to hear from people who have gone through the same experience and seeing encouraging words such as ‘pulled me back into who and what I truly am’, ‘life-changing’ or ‘a new way of life’ might just be the decision-making factor a lot of people need.
Looking to the future, the opioid crisis will become ever more visible on public agendas and how we respond to it will be crucial.