In 2017, one American died every thirteen minutes from an opiate-related overdose. The epidemic has been described as “America’s worst drug crisis ever” and “a disaster with no end in sight.” A frequent explanation for today’s emergency focuses on the 1990s, when Purdue Pharmaceuticals introduced OxyContin and marketed it aggressively. At the same time, physicians were being told that they had been under-treating pain and that new medicines, including OxyContin, were less dangerous than older opiates. The full story of how this tragedy has unfolded goes far beyond marketing and clinical practice. In this program, medical historian Steve Beitler shows how Americans have embraced opiates since the early 1800s, when a twenty-one-year-old amateur chemist isolated morphine, a key opium component. By 1900, opium dens were common, heroin was inexpensive and fully legal, and the majority of opiate addicts were women. For more than 200 years, opiates have been central to medicine, commerce, geopolitics, and our tumultuous drug culture. This is the dramatic, largely untold story of Americans’ tangled embrace with opiates - molecules that are indispensable to medical practice and formidable agents of dependence.
Speakers: Steve Beitler, Medical Historian; Amy Cooper, National Coalition against Prescription Drug Abuse
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