Heroin today is an illegal, highly addictive drug and one of the most dangerous drugs known to mankind. Even the thought of consuming a drug as dangerous as heroin gives people goose bumps, however, that wasn’t always the case.
Heroin is processed from morphine, a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of certain varieties of poppy plants. It is typically sold as a white or brownish powder that is “cut” (Mixed or Diluted) with sugars, starch, powdered milk, or quinine. Pure heroin is a white powder with a bitter taste that predominantly originates in South America and, to a lesser extent, from Southeast Asia.
During the 1800’s the hydrochloride of diacetylmorphine, Heroin was discovered by acetylating morphine. Heroin, in pharmacological studies, proved to be exceptionally more effective than morphine or codeine. The Bayer Company was the first to start the production of heroin in 1898 on a commercial scale. The first clinical trials and their results proved to be so promising that heroin was considered a wonder drug.
Indeed, heroin was far more effective than codeine in respiratory diseases. It has turned out, however, that repeated administration of heroin results in the development of tolerance and the patients become heroin-addicts soon. In the early 1910s morphine addicts “discovered” the euphoric properties of heroin and this effect was enhanced by intravenous administration. Heroin became a narcotic drug and its abuse began to spread quickly.
World War II disrupted the international heroin and opium trade. Addicts were forced to turn to drugstores and physicians for narcotics. During the war, however, domestic marijuana was readily available in the Negro community. Usage was apparently widespread, and in 1945 Illinois passed legislation increasing the penalties for marijuana possession. Laws controlling heroin were not changed so that, ironically, possession of marijuana became a more serious offense than possession of heroin or other hard narcotics.
Immediately following World War II, older patients described the onset of a poly-drug epidemic among teenage Negroes in association with a hip youth culture which included jazz musicians and well known entertainers. Nightspots on Chicago’s Negro South Side were swinging places for conventioneers and local well to do whites. Marijuana and heroin were part of this hip scene, and the lyrics of popular songs contained thinly disguised references to drugs.
Heroin was cheap and of high quality, its hazards were not visible or known to new users, and legal penalties were not severe. During the late 1940s cocaine use also became more widespread. As one observer pointed out, heroin use spread from street corner to street corner very much like an infectious disease epidemic.
A source described a particularly vivid account of the lifestyle of these young addicts and the social processes involved in heroin spread. The changing characteristics of individuals involved in the epidemic were only starting to morph. The young addicts of the 1940s were hip, street-wise, non-delinquents, where as the later stages tended to affect youth with prior histories of delinquency.
During 2001, Portugal became the first country ever to decriminalize the possession and consumption of all illicit substances. Now instead of than being arrested, people caught with a personal supply were given a warning, a small fine, or told to appear before a local commission, compromising of a doctor, a lawyer and a social worker about treatment, harm reduction, and the support services.
The move of decriminalization however, did not fail like many speculated it would. Instead the opioid crisis soon stabilized, and the next couple of years observed dramatic drops in problematic drug use, HIV and hepatitis infection rates, overdose deaths, drug-related crime and incarceration rates.
HIV infection plummeted from an all-time high in 2000 of 104.2 new cases per million to 4.2 cases per million in 2015. The reason for this dramatic drop in drug abuse was not solely based of the decriminalization. According to evidence, the harm-reduction movements played a major role in overcoming the problem.
Portugal’s remarkable recovery, was in part due to an enormous cultural shift, and a change in perspective regarding how the country viewed drugs and addiction. The decriminalization made it easier and more efficient for a broad range of services like health, psychiatry, employment, housing to pool their resources and expertise, and serve the struggling communities.
Portugal’s policy rests on three pillars:
Heroin today has become far more dangerous than it was during the infancy of the drug; fenantyl a toxic compound is added to the already dangerous drug before mass-shipping. Pakistan suffers from a high amount of drug users, particularly belonging to lower income households.
The most alarming aspect of this hideous drug problem that has been affecting Pakistan for the last couple of decades is that the majority of heroin addicts are children below the ages of 18-21. While many more rehabilitation centers have popped up across Pakistan, the problem still remains and grows by the day. These rehabilitation centers are sometimes very expensive for the already financially struggling families of the addicts. This further restricts the options of successful treatments as the relapse rate for heroin in Pakistan is more than 70 percent.
Furthermore, to add to the issue Pakistan has apparently not learned from the history and measures being taken worldwide. Police continue to treat drug use solely as a crime, with addicts being captured and beaten by the police. No efforts are made towards the rehabilitation of the addicts, instead punishing remains the course of action regarding drugs in general.
Perhaps we can learn a thing or two from Portugal’s drug policy and find a better solution to our drug problem. Massive international cultural shifts in thinking about drugs and addiction are needed to make way for decriminalization and legalization globally. If a conservative, isolationist, Catholic Portugal could transform into a country where drug use is decriminalized, a broader shift in attitudes seems possible in Pakistan too.
We have to realize that one has to want the change, in order to make it. Now is the time to stop punishing and start helping, before our drug problem consumes us all.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of THE ACE NEWS. Assumptions made in the analysis are not reflective of the position of any entity other than the author.
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17 November, 2019