Aspirin and Heroin History:

5 vintage Bayer bottles
5 vintage Bayer bottles

In the August of 1897 Felix Hoffmann drastically changed the way people today look at pain medications. While working in the research department at the Bayer Co. in Elbersfeld, Germany, Hoffman was at work looking for a way to help lessen the pains of his father's rheumatism. He added the acetyl group CH3CO to salicylic acid, which is the active ingredient in salves and teas made from plant materials. This combination was already created by Charles Gerhardt, a French Chemist, but Hoffmann was the first to create a reliable method of creating the combination, which is the active ingredient in asprin. The name asprin was created by taking the "A" from acetyl" and the spirin comes from Spirea, which is the genus name for the shrub that produced salicylic acid. When this was first introduced to Heinrich Dreser, who was the man at Bayer who launched the drugs he thought would be successful on the market, he didn't believe the product was of value to the company.
Heroin for asthmatics
Heroin for asthmatics

Heroin was first discovered in 1874 by C.R.A Wright, an English Chemist, however he did not recognize the potential of this drug so he stopped doing research on it. Then in August of 1897 under Dreser's instructions Hoffman acetylated (adding acetyl groups to a compound) to morphine. When workers at the Bayer Co. were testing the drug the said they felt "heroic", thus giving a name to the drug. The drug was believed to be an effective treatment for asthma, bronchitis, phthisis, and tuberculosis, and it was believed to work better than morphine, and without the addictive qualities of morphine. Unlike his reactions to heroin, Dreser was very excited about the drug and wanted to get it out, and start marketing it as soon as he could. He felt that it was the best drug of the day and that it worked wonders. At that time pneumonia and tuberculosis were the leading causes of death, and even having a common cough could be serious. So having a drug like heroine was an amazing thing.

Eventually researchers started to become aware that heroin was an addictive substance. (the term "junkie" comes from the name people called addicts who in order to support their habits collected and sold scrap metals) In 1913 Bayer decided stopped making the drug.

Today Heroin is an illegal substance in the US, and according to Heroin Addiction Drug Rehab:
  • The current estimates suggest that nearly 600,000 people need treatment for heroin addiction.
  • Last year, there were approximately 84,000 visits to emergency rooms in the US due to heroin.
  • According to Drug Abuse Warning Network, or DAWN, heroin and morphine accounted for 51% of drug deaths ruled accidental or unexpected in 1999.

Asprin's story though is much different and has a much more positive influence on our world today. Asprin today is used by virtually everyone in the US to help ease everyday pains without any serious side effects, and has made the Bayer Co. exceedingly rich and famous.

The Science Behind Aspirin

We feel pain when part of the tissue in our bodies is damaged. The damaged cells in the tissue send out chemicals called prostaglandin which gives our brain the sensation of being hurt. These chemicals are made by an enzyme called cycloocsygenase 2, or COX-2. Aspirin works by basically locking on to the COX-2 enzyme and stopping it from creating prostaglandin. This in turn keeps us from feeling the pain. However, prostaglandAspirin.jpgin is not the only chemical involved in pain, so the user will still experience some pain. Unfortunately, aspirin merely stalls the production of prostaglandin, it will have no effect on actually fixing the problem.

Although this is true, aspirin can be used in other beneficial ways. Prostaglandin can cause small particles in the blood called platelets to stick together. Sticky platelets could cause blood clots to form which could lead to a heart attack. Aspirin blocks the production of prostaglandin, and so this whole situation may be averted. Because of this, many people now take aspirin to avoid heart attacks.

The most common side effect of aspirin is an upset stomach. This is caused because a similar enzyme (COX-1) is used in the stomach to keep the stomach lining thick. The aspirin attaches on to these enzymes as well as COX-2 enzymes. This results in the stalling of production by the COX-1 enzymes, and so the stomach lining is thinned, making it easily irritated by the digestive juices in the stomach. Another problem is that occasionally, if aspirin is given to a child with chicken pox, the flu, or other viral sickness, the child may develop a potentially deadly condition called Reyes Syndrome. The cause of this is still largely unknown. Alternatives to aspirin such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen try to make use of some of the advantages of aspirin while having less side effects.

Opioid Receptor with opioid attached

The Science Behind Heroin

When the body is in an emergency due to shock or injury, endorphins, also known as opioids are produced within the body to ease the pain. These opiods work by latching on to opioid receptors scattered around the brain and the body. Heroin is able to bind to these opioid receptors and turn on their pain killing powers. In fact, heroin latches onto the opioid receptors so well that the receptors go beyond their pain killing abilities, and the user experiences a “rush” of good feeling.moz-screenshot-10.jpg

Heroin is a problem for many reasons.
  • Dependence on the drug, as well as withdrawal, can be very agonizing and painful, and causes the user to spend lots of money and time in pursuing their heroin addiction.
  • Shooting heroin may cause damage to the brain, lungs, liver, and eyes.
  • Shared needles increases the risk of spreading AIDS
  • The chances of overdosing are increased as vendors sell heroin at unreliable qualities, making a small dose from one vendor the equivalent of a deadly dose from another.
  • Heroin may conceal other illnesses from being recognized and treated.

Buprenorphine particles block the opioid receptor

As a person uses more and more heroin, they require more and more opioids to fill their opioid receptors. When not enough opioid receptors are filled with opioids, pain and discomfort is sent to the brain. This is known as withdrawal, and it forces the person to take more heroin to escape this feeling. This is a problem because as more and more heroin is used, the brain craves it even more. One method to treat withdrawal and end a persons dependence on heroin is to use buprenorphine treatment. In this treatment, instead of opioids, buprenorphine latches on to the opioid receptors. This helps to alleviate the effects of withdrawal, and, at the same time, the patient does not experience the harmful effects of heroin.

Askwith, Richard “How aspirin turned hero” Sunday Times, 13 September 1998
Bowden, M. E. “Aspirin and heroin: one man invents two pain relievers in two weeks” Chemical Heritage Foundation, 2008
Rezelman, David. "The Manhattan Project: An Interactive History" U.S. Department of Energy. 5 Oct. 2008.
“Heroin Statistics” Heroin Addiction Drug Rehab, 2008
“The History of Aspirin” Bayer Aspirin, 2008
Hoffman, Lucas. "How Aspirin Works." 01 April 2000. 05 October 2008.
Parker, Jim. “Heroin: The Junk Equation” July 2007. 05 October 2008.
"How does Heroi n Work?" 2008 Heroin Addiction 2 05 October 2008.
"Buprenorphine Treatment" 2008 National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment (NAAPT) 05 October 2008

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