By JENNIFER DEMPSEY

Progress Staff Writer

Part 1 of 5

It’s hard to watch TV or read a newspaper without seeing something about drugs or overdoses. While there has been an increase in overdose deaths and crime related to drugs over the years, the use of drugs is not a new concept. Many drugs that are currently illegal have been used for thousands of years for medicinal and recreational purposes.

Opium use in China has been reported all the way back to the 7th century. It was used during that time for mostly medicinal purposes. In the 17th century it was mixed with tobacco for smoking and the demand greatly increased.

Opium use became very popular with woman throughout the 19th century. They were prescribed to treat menstrual pain, morning sickness and “diseases of a nervous character.” The overuse and over prescribing of these drugs led to 60% of addicts being women.

Marijuana was first cultivated in the U.S. around 1600. Jamestown settlers began growing cannabis sativa or hemp plants for it’s strong fiber. Hemp is used for clothing, ropes, sails and just about everything else. In the 19th century, the growth of marijuana flourished in various states. The smoking of hashish, a stronger form of marijuana, was very popular in France. Marijuana was used widely for pharmaceutical use and could be purchased in pharmacies and drug stores. The recreational use increased over the years until it was made illegal in 1937.

Cocaine is derived from the coca plant which is native in South America. It was first noticed in the medical world about 1883. Coca-Cola was first made using coca syrup and African kola nuts. Many tonics were sold in the 1900s containing cocaine and opium.

Amphetamine was first created in Germany around 1890 and the stronger methamphetamine was concocted in Japan around 1920. During World War II, Japanese kamikaze pilots were given meth before suicide missions and soldiers were also supplied meth to stay awake for long periods of time.

In 1937, a German based company created Pervitin, a methamphetamine based stimulant. Shortly after that, it was available everywhere. People could purchase chocolates that were laced with Pervitin, and the drug was used for weight loss and mood enhancement.

The military leaders noticed the effects of the drug and it was given to the soldiers. This allowed them to stay awake for long periods of time, increased concentration and increased their willingness to take risks. Pervitin was included in basic supplies for the soldiers. In a four month span, the German army used 35 million meth tablets.

Cocaine was another favorite stimulant of the Third Reich. It was noted that pilots and soldiers were often shipped off to the front lines with nothing but cocaine laced gum to keep them going.

It has also been said that Adolf Hitler was an avid drug user and frequently used meth, morphine, cocaine and a wide concoction of other drugs. Dr. Theodor Morell was Hitler’s private physician who was responsible for giving him injections of opioids and hormones.

During the war, it wasn’t only the Germans that were participating in drug use. The British and United States troops were also using stimulants.

These troops were given Benzedrine, which was first created as an anti-depressant.

The drug use during the war didn’t end when the war ended. Instead, this left millions of soldiers addicted to drugs. Men were coming home from war as addicts and unable to provide for their families. Many of them remained addicted their entire lives.

The use of drugs during wartime is not a new concept. It’s been thought that Vikings used mushrooms before conquests and the Romans cultivated opium. The Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius was a known drug addict.

During the Vietnam War, 225 million stimulant pills were handed out to soldiers between the years of 1966-69. It has been speculated that this drug use is what has lead to high rate of PTSD in Vietnam Veterans. In addition to addiction, services for veterans were poor when they returned from war. More Vietnam veterans committed suicide after the war than were killed in the war.

Most recently, it has been reported that Syrians have been using amphetamines during the war in Syria. Over 12 million Captagon pills have been seized by Turkish officials from Syrian troops.

It’s pretty obvious to see that drug use is not a new thing. Some of these substances have been around for hundreds of years and their uses have changed over the years. Researchers have been able to study the affects these drugs have on people and their possible dire outcomes. The main purpose for most of these drugs were medicinal, but the use of them was abused for personal pleasure or personal gain. Is it possible for some of these substances to be used responsibly for medicinal purposes again?

Over the month of December, we will focus each week on a different aspect of the drug situation. Look for future articles on the pharmaceutical companies and their contribution to the drug crisis, popular drugs and their affects on people, what is addiction and what is being done to help the situation.

For more information about the use of drugs in WWII, I highly recommend Norman Ohler’s book “Blitzed: Drugs in Nazi Germany.”