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Morphine Is Invented:

Although opium had undergone increasingly effective methods of harnessing the drug's beneficial as well as destructive properties, a scientific discovery made in 1803 marked a turning point in the drug's history. Friedrich Sertuerner, a German scientist, discovered that dissolving opium in acid and then neutralizing it with ammonia isolated the drug's most intoxicating ingredient from the rest. Just as the ancient Sumerians had learned to isolate the poppy's sap from the rest of the plant, Sertuerner had found a way to further isolate the active ingredient of opium. This discovery made it possible to greatly increase the potential dosage strength of the drug. Sertuerner named this component "morphine," after Morpheus, the Greek god of dreams. To this day, morphine is believed to be by far the most intoxicating of the estimated fifty chemical components, called "alkaloids," that make up opium.

Morphine was immediately embraced by physicians as an important medical breakthrough, and was widely prescribed. This powdered drug, which patients took orally, not only provided stronger pain relief than that of raw opium, but its soothing effects on the respiratory and lower digestive tracts were considerably stronger as well. However, the most significant advantage of morphine over raw opium was that it allowed precise dosages. Though with morphine's increased potency came a proportional increase in addictiveness, physicians at the time considered morphine addiction a non-life-threatening vice that was well worth the drug's benefits. Morphine also produced stronger allergic reactions than opium, but doctors also considered these increased side effects to be worth the drug's medicinal benefits.

The power of morphine, and further, the overall quality of medical treatment in the nineteenth century, made a tremendous advance in 1856 with the advent of the hypodermic needle. Two American doctors first experimented with the use of the hypodermic needle to inject morphine directly into the bloodstream through a vein, and found that injected morphine yielded much stronger results in less time, and lasted much longer than morphine that was administered orally. Further, since the human liver does not destroy most of an injected dose of morphine, as it does with an oral dose, far less morphine is required for an injected dose.

Sir William Osler, a distinguished British physician of his day, coined the widely used expression "God's own medicine" for morphine injections. This term reflected the common sentiment among physicians around the world concerning their newfound ability to bring extremely strong and rapid pain relief to patients for the first time in the history of medicine. Once again, the increased opiate dosage strength was accompanied by high addiction and opiate-related side effects, but as they had in the past, physicians considered these drawbacks to be greatly outweighed by the drug's power to relieve pain.

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