Why Opioid Addiction is Nothing New

I want to send a shout out to all my readers who downloaded a copy of We’re all Chihuahuas“Thank you again, and I truly appreciate the support!” For those who are new to my blog, I want to restate one of my goals which started about a year and a half ago; that goal is to read all 1,300 Penguin Classics and periodically document my progress through DaretobeWise.Blog. I am slowly making my way through this massive list, and the journey is definitely expanding my understanding of the world. Just recently by accident, I read two classics at the same time which covered opiate addiction in the past – Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey and Junky by William Burroughs – published in 1821 and 1953 respectively. Those dates are quite far back and surprising in my mind because I always connected drug addiction with modern times. I grew up in the age of eggs being cracked into a skillet and teachers yelling “THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON DRUGS!!!”

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My parents would always reminisce about the “good old days” when drugs were never used. There is no doubt that the current Opioid Epidemic is a public health crisis – with 116 people dying a day from overdoses in 2016 (source). However frightening that statistic is, it is even more alarming when one realizes that people have been taking opioids since 3200 B.C. (source).  Of course in ancient times, the drug was not nearly as potent as modern pharmaceuticals, but it does highlight societies’ proclivity for the substance.  Morphine – a derivative of opium – became common in the 19th century for the treatment of everyday ailments. Thomas De Quincey became hooked on the drug after a severe headache – which sounds familiar to addicts today after getting hooked on prescribed oxycodone. The temporary high one gets from these drugs is explained by De Quincey…

“Here was the secret of happiness, about which philosophers had disputed for so many ages, at once discovered; happiness might now be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoat-pocket; portable ecstasies might be had corked up in a pint-bottle; and peace of mind could be sent down by the mail.”

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Of course, this happiness fades, and the user is left waiting for his next fix. Eventually, the addict requires opium just to function – receiving just enough “high” to bring them back to baseline. That is the saddest part about addiction to opiates – an addict only uses so they can escape sickness. William Burroughs describes this sickness as the cells being saturated with “junk” and no longer being able to function without a regular infusion of the poison…

“You can list the symptoms of junk sickness, but the feel of it is like no other feeling and you can not put it into words…I think the use of junk causes permanent cellular alteration. Once a junkie, always a junkie.”

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This was written in the golden age of morality – 1950’s America – and highlights that opioid addiction is not a new phenomenon. Both of these writers were wrongly prescribed opiates and suffered because of doctors who failed to learn from the past. It makes me wonder if today’s epidemic would exist if we required history classes for medical students. What if today’s doctors were required to read these two books? Would they think twice about prescribing oxycodone to a teenager who just got their wisdom teeth removed? Who knows but I for one was enlightened by the experiences of these two men – helping me stay far away from any future prescription refills. What is your experience with opioids? Have you known someone who became addicted? Are they helpful in managing your pain? I love reading your comments.

Heil Hitler: The Nazi’s Drug Addiction

Today, I saw the WWII movie Dunkirk directed by Christopher Nolan. It’s an exceptional movie, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to learn about one of the most important events in the war. What made this film exciting for me was the knowledge that hard-core drugs made Dunkirk a possibility. Did you know that Hitler was a hardcore drug addict? Did you know the blitzkrieg was only possible because of meth? Did you know Nazis were given speed balls before kamikaze submarine missions? All of these questions are explained in the international bestseller Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler. I highly recommend this book because it completely changed my perspective on Nazi Germany. Up until this book, I saw the Nazis as superhuman- zealot nationalists who performed their tasks through the spirit of their beliefs; now I understand that their relentless drive came from drugs which kept them motivated, alert, and addicted to the war machine.

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In 1938, the German pharmaceutical company Temmler introduced Pervitin to the market. Pervitin was marketed as a magic medicine that provided energy, happiness, and the work ethic needed to expand the Third Reich. The magic of Pervitin lied in its main ingredient – methamphetamine aka Crystal Meth. This meth was available to all Germans and was given to soldiers in healthy doses during the blitzkrieg invasion of France. The blitzkrieg was only possible with Pervitin because the soldiers were able to go three days without sleep – the French soldiers couldn’t comprehend the artificial stamina of their opponents. The German tanks kept rolling because of the drugged soldier’s synthetic feelings of invincibility, and they ended up surrounding the Allies like a boa constrictor. The only escape route available for over 300,000 Allies was the coastal city of Dunkirk, France.

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Hitler, early on in his power, suffered from a host of stomach ailments which were probably due to stress and his diet. He searched for a doctor to help him, but no expert could help his infirmities; there was one doctor however that tried a different approach – his name was Theodor Morell. Morell gave Hitler vitamin injections which helped Hitler’s stomach issues – these injections quickly secured him as the Fuhrer’s personal physician. At the time of Dunkirk, Hitler was being lifted up by these daily vitamin injections which propelled his ego and narcissism – he halted the blitzkrieg because he didn’t want the military acting without his orders – in the end allowing all the allies to escape. By 1941, Hitler was in need of stronger drugs; Morell began a regimen of vitamins, animal hormones (Hitler was a strict vegetarian), and Eukodal. Eukodal is better known today as oxycodone – the fraternal twin to heroin.

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It didn’t take long before Hitler was addicted to these injections and by 1943 he was receiving even more drugs several times a day – high-grade cocaine, morphine, testosterone, and meth. Most of the high ranking Nazi staff were receiving similar injections from Morell while statewide propaganda ironically decried the drugs as “Jewish” poison not fit for the Aryan race. By the time of Hitler’s suicide in 1945, Morell had injected the “role model of Nazi health” over 800 times with 74 different substances. In the last years of his life, Hitler was receiving so many injections that he had track marks running up and down his veins. It was said that when Hitler received his injections, a cracking noise could be heard from his damaged vasculature and his blood oozed like gelatin because of its continuous exposure to animal hormones.

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The German army as a whole continued to receive state sanctioned meth throughout the war. The Third Reich would eventually experiment with cocaine and heroine – soldiers were given combinations of these three drugs to keep them fighting even when faced with utter defeat. Drugs were a tool for the Nazis and helped them accomplish superhuman tasks like the blitzkrieg, but in the end, both leaders and soldiers became burned out by their fleeting effects. Hitler was fueled by drugs, but drugs did not lead to the events of the Holocaust. Hitler’s hatred of the Jews began long before his first injection – as a healthy young man he dreamed of their extermination. The drugs hurt the Nazis more than anything. If Hitler weren’t addicted to drugs, he would have made less poor military decisions and prolonged the war – allowing greater time to kill victims in the concentration camps. Drugs in the Third Reich provided the energy for terror at the beginning of the fight but not the stamina needed for marathon fighting – oddly enough,  Morell was the Allies best weapon. 

“Hitler would go as white as a sheet and tightly clench his jaws, while his eyes would dilate. Everyone in his entourage would get panicky because these fits were always followed by an order to dismiss or to execute somebody.”
-Theodor Morell