The Bayer Company Made Heroin

Another chapter from my book, 50 Things You’re Not Supposed to Know, published in 2003, by Disinfo.

For more on me, please check out The Memory Hole.

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Bayer AspirinAspirin isn’t the only “wonder drug that works wonders” that Bayer made. The German pharmaceutical giant also introduced heroin to the world.

The company was looking for a cough suppressant that didn’t have problematic side effects, mainly addiction, like morphine and codeine. And if it could relieve pain better than morphine, that  was a welcome bonus.

When one of Bayer’s chemists approached the head of the pharmacological lab with ASA — to be sold under the name “aspirin” — he was waved away. The boss was more interested in something else the chemists had cooked up — diacetylmorphine. (This narcotic had been created in 1874 by a British chemist, who had never done anything with it.)

Using the tradename “Heroin” — because early testers said it made them feel heroisch (heroic) — Bayer sold this popular drug by the truckload starting in 1898. Free samples were sent to thousands of doctors; studies appeared in medical journals. The Sunday Times of London noted: “By 1899, Bayer was producing about a ton of heroin a year, and exporting the drug to 23 countries,” including the US. Medicines containing smack were available over-the-counter at drug stores, just as aspirin is today. The American Medical Association gave heroin its stamp of approval in 1907.

But reports of addiction, which had already started appearing in 1899, turned into a torrent after several years. Bayer had wisely released aspirin the year after heroin, and this new non-addictive painkiller and anti-inflammatory was well on its way to becoming the most popular drug ever. In 1913, Bayer got out of the heroin business.

Not that the company has kept its nose clean since then:

A division of the pharmaceutical company Bayer sold millions of dollars of blood-clotting medicine for hemophiliacs — medicine that carried a high risk of transmitting AIDS — to Asia and Latin America in the mid-1980s while selling a new, safer product in the West, according to documents obtained by the New York Times. … [I]n Hong Kong and Taiwan alone, more than 100 hemophiliacs got HIV after using Cutter’s old medicine, according to records and interviews. Many have since died.

References: Askwith, Richard. “How Aspirin Turned Hero.” Sunday Times (London), 13 Sept 1998. • Bogdanich, Walt, and Eric Koli. “2 Paths of Bayer Drug in 80’s: Riskier Type Went Overseas.” New York Times, 22 May 2003. • Metzger, Th. The Birth of Heroin and the Demonization of the Dope Fiend . Loompanics Unlimited, 1998.

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Look for more 50 Things You’re Not Supposed to Know under the tag “50 Things” on disinfo.com.

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  • Phil E. Drifter

    Yup instead of cutting their losses they made money back by selling tainted medicine to poor countries which resulted in HIV+ infection and death.

    Yay, American capitalism!

    • TheChronicOne

      Dumbass.

      Bayer is a GERMAN company.

      • hotandbothered

        Yay, German style American capitalism!

  • NinjaDave

    Hooray capitalism! Profits before people, ALWAYS!

    Disgusting, isn't it? It's time for a new social system that puts the wellbeing of people and the planet first. Check it out. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EewGMBOB4Gg&feat

  • http://www.rathjenra.com AR

    Everyone knows that Bayer was – until 1929 – one of the major HEROIN producers – a drug used for a variety of purposes. Then the stuff got illegal….

  • http://www.rathjenra.com AR

    Everyone knows that Bayer was – until 1929 – one of the major HEROIN producers – a drug used for a variety of purposes. Then the stuff got illegal….

  • BadBeast

    Bayer also came up with a non-opiate analgesic during WWII, because Germany couldn’t get access to any Opium (because the major distributor, Britain, was at war with them) to make Morphine, and they needed a Battlefield Analgesic. The Drug they came up with was originally marketed as “Adolfin” named after the Fuhrer. It’s generic name is Physeptone, and today, (they diplomatically dropped the name “Adolfin” after the war) we know it as Methadone, and it’s main use is as a Heroin substitute, and is widely prescribed for Heroin withdrawals all over the World. Thing is, Methadone is more addictive than Heroin, with more severe withdrawal symptoms, and sudden withdrawal is actually life threatening, rather than just painful and unpleasant, like Heroin. It takes less time for the body to develop tolerance levels, which mean addiction develops sooner. It’s also about 20 times more expensive to produce than Heroin, and has many unpleasant side effects, like incontinence, obesity, severe depression, and dangerously low blood pressure. So what the Drug Treatment programs are effectively doing is taking the Heroin addict, and addicting them to their own, more addictive, dangerous (And profitable) Drug instead. One that’s only available from State sanctioned dealers.

    It was also at this time that they developed a new, faster process for making Amphetamine, resulting in a far stronger variety of speed, Methylamphetamine or “Crystal Meth”. This is what kept the Waffen SS Werewolves going rogue, and fighting on for up to 10 months after the War had ended. When they refused to respond to orders from their own Generals to stand down, SAS Units were despatched to persuade them, but they were ignored, and even killed. They kept on fighting a War of attrition against Partisan Italians, Chechens, and Poles until the last of them were either dead, or victorious. All on Bayer’s splendid Drugs. Now they make Adderal, (A mix of two types of Amphetamine, (Dex, and Meth) with another of their uppers, Ritalin for children with behavioral problems.
    Fucking win for Bayer then.

  • BadBeast

    Bayer also came up with a non-opiate analgesic during WWII, because Germany couldn’t get access to any Opium (because the major distributor, Britain, was at war with them) to make Morphine, and they needed a Battlefield Analgesic. The Drug they came up with was originally marketed as “Adolfin” named after the Fuhrer. It’s generic name is Physeptone, and today, (they diplomatically dropped the name “Adolfin” after the war) we know it as Methadone, and it’s main use is as a Heroin substitute, and is widely prescribed for Heroin withdrawals all over the World. Thing is, Methadone is more addictive than Heroin, with more severe withdrawal symptoms, and sudden withdrawal is actually life threatening, rather than just painful and unpleasant, like Heroin. It takes less time for the body to develop tolerance levels, which mean addiction develops sooner. It’s also about 20 times more expensive to produce than Heroin, and has many unpleasant side effects, like incontinence, obesity, severe depression, and dangerously low blood pressure. So what the Drug Treatment programs are effectively doing is taking the Heroin addict, and addicting them to their own, more addictive, dangerous (And profitable) Drug instead. One that’s only available from State sanctioned dealers.

    It was also at this time that they developed a new, faster process for making Amphetamine, resulting in a far stronger variety of speed, Methylamphetamine or “Crystal Meth”. This is what kept the Waffen SS Werewolves going rogue, and fighting on for up to 10 months after the War had ended. When they refused to respond to orders from their own Generals to stand down, SAS Units were despatched to persuade them, but they were ignored, and even killed. They kept on fighting a War of attrition against Partisan Italians, Chechens, and Poles until the last of them were either dead, or victorious. All on Bayer’s splendid Drugs. Now they make Adderal, (A mix of two types of Amphetamine, (Dex, and Meth) with another of their uppers, Ritalin for children with behavioral problems.
    Fucking win for Bayer then.

    • Hermesacat

      William Burroughs’ favourite form of junk when he lived in Tangier in the 1950s was a German made synthetic opiate called “Eukodal”. The drug had ceased production while he was there so he was exhausting any supplies he could find still on hand at Tangier drug stores. It turns out Eukodal was a brand name for the drug Oxycodone (Oxycontin).

      Wiki: “Freund and Speyer of the University of Frankfurt in Germany first synthesized oxycodone from thebaine in 1916 a few years after the German pharmaceutical company Bayer had stopped the mass production of heroin due to hazardous use, harmful use, and dependence. It was hoped that a thebaine-derived drug would retain the analgesic effects of morphine and heroin with less dependence. To some extent this was achieved, as oxycodone does not have the same immediate effect as heroin or morphine, nor does it last as long.
      The first clinical use of (Oxycodone) was documented in 1917, the year after it was first developed. It was first introduced to the US market in May 1939. In early 1928, Merck introduced a combination product containing scopolamine, oxycodone, and ephedrine
      under the German initials for the ingredients SEE, which was later
      renamed Scophedal (SCOpolamine ePHEDrine and eukodAL)—this combination is essentially an oxycodone analogue of the morphine-based Twilight Sleep with ephedrine added to reduce circulatory and respiratory
      effects. In the early 1960s the United States government, classified Oxycodone as a schedule II drug. Then in 1995, the FDA approved OxyContin. As of May 2013, extended release version in the United States is only available as OxyContin brand.”

      -It was while on Eukodal/Oxycodone in Tangier that Burroughs reports (in his Intro. to “Naked Lunch”) he had gone without bathing or changing his clothes for a whole year, garbage was piled to the ceiling in his room, & he could sit & look at the end of his shoe 8 hours straight till he was again roused to action to take another shot of Eukodal. That’s some nasty sounding junk! I don”t recall ever reading of a heroin junkie in as diminished a condition as Burroughs was in Morocco on Eukodal!

      • Raj Brar

        Awesome post

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