The Public Interest

Methadone: the forlorn hope

Edward Jay Epstein

Summer 1974

IN 1898, the Bayer Company of Germany synthesized a white crystallized compound from morphine and marketed it under the trade name of Heroin. The new drug, though three times as powerful a pain-reliever as morphine, was purported to be non-addictive, and was even recommended in authoritative medical journals as a means of treating addiction to morphine and other drugs. Less than 10 years later, the medical profession, confronted with an increasing number of heroin addicts, recognized heroin as a highly addictive and dangerous drug, and by the 1920s the United States government had effectively outlawed heroin. Medical opinion remained divided, however, on the question of how to treat the existing heroin addicts. Some doctors believed that heroin induced a permanent change in the bio-chemistry of its victims, and therefore addicts would have to be maintained on heroin for the rest of their lives.  Other doctors held to the theory that heroin itself was the toxic agent in the body, and therefore addicts could be successfully “detoxified” by withdrawing the drug from them.

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