Encyclopedia Article


Natural and pharmaceutically-derived substances used to relieve pain that can cause stupor, sleep, euphoria, and addiction. The most common form of narcotics are opiates, such as opium, morphine, and heroin. Morphine was isolated from opium in 1804 by German pharmacist F.W.A. Sertürner, and heroin was developed from morphine in 1898 by the German pharmaceutical company Bayer.

All narcotics were initially developed and prescribed to manage pain. However, due to their highly addictive nature, narcotic abuse led to strict regulation and enforcement of the use of these and other substances. In the 1970s, the U.S. federal government engaged in the War on Drugs, which led to high rates of incarceration for populations who came to be associated with the criminal use of controlled substances, such as narcotics. Targeted populations included counterculture movements, the inner city poor, and the working poor, especially black and Latino communities.

Photo Credit: 

"Pre-war Bayer heroin bottle, originally containing 5 grams of heroin" by Mpv_51 is licensed under Public Domain.

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