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In the 19th century, active substances in drugs were first extracted. These included morphine, laudanum and cocaine. The sale and use of the drugs was largely unregulated by the law. Physicians were not aware of their addictive properties and prescribed them liberally for all types of ailments. They were available for sale by traveling vendors, in drugstores and through mail order. The easy access and lack of knowledge quickly led to rampant drug addiction. Sigmund Freud treated many who were addicted to cocaine, a drug that was first used as a local anesthetic during surgery.
The Civil War brought widespread use of morphine; those wounded in battle were often prescribed the drug for pain management. Veterans of the war returned home with an addiction along with their drug of choice and hypodermic needles for its delivery. At the same time, cocaine and heroin were readily available without a prescription and were used as treatments for all types of illness. The use of opium as a recreational drug began to flourish, and by the early 20th century, according to the National Drug and Alcohol Abuse Hotline, the United States had upwards of 250,000 addicts.
Late 19th Century
With the end of the 19th century came recognition of the issue of drug addiction. In 1875, the first laws against drug abuse were passed, and opium dens were outlawed. In 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed; it required that medications containing opium and other narcotics be properly labeled. In 1914, the Harrison Narcotic Act was passed; it required the sale of larger doses of narcotics be made only by licensed physicians or pharmacists.
Early 20th Century
By the 1930s, states began requiring schools to provide anti-drug education to students. However, fear that education would lead to students trying drugs caused most of these early anti-drug programs to be stopped. The U.S. wasn't the only country to struggle with addiction to newly developed prescription drugs. According to the National Drug and Alcohol Abuse Hotline, in 1928 it was estimated that one in every 100 German physicians was addicted to morphine. By 1938, in the United States, 25,000 physicians had been charged with narcotics crimes under the provisions of the Harrison Act, and 3,000 had served time in prison.
Early 21st Century
The use of prescription pain relievers, stimulants, sedatives and tranquilizers in an abusive manner continues. Current trends show younger people, including teenagers, are becoming addicted to these prescription medications, as well as elderly patients. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of people abusing prescription drugs increased from just under 600,000 in 1990 to 2.5 million in 2000. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, the street value of prescription drugs sold illegally is likely greater than that from the sale of heroin and marijuana combined.
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