Morphine was first used medicinally as a painkiller and, erroneously, as a cure for opium addiction. It quickly replaced opium as a cure-all recommended by doctors and as a recreational drug and was readily available from drugstores or through the mail. Substitution of morphine addiction for alcohol addiction was considered beneficial by some physicians because alcohol is more destructive to the body and is more likely to trigger antisocial behavior. Morphine was used during the American Civil War as a surgical anesthetic and was sent home with many wounded soldiers for relief of pain. At the end of the war, over 400,000 people had the "army disease," morphine addiction. The Franco-Prussian War in Europe had a similar effect.
In 1906 the Pure Food and Drug Act required accurate labeling of patent medicines and tonics. Various laws restricting the importation of opium were enacted, and the Harrison Narcotics Act (1914) prohibited possession of narcotics unless properly prescribed by a physician. Despite legislation, morphine maintained much of its popularity until heroin came into use, it in its turn believed to be a cure for morphine addiction.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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