Richard J. Miller is a professor of pharmacology at Northwestern University and author of the new book Drugged: The Science and Culture Behind Psychotropic Drugs (Oxford University Press), in which he argues that morphine is the most significant chemical substance our species has ever encountered. In April, Miller told reason three reasons why he believes this is true:
- Medical value. Morphine is a drug isolated from the opium poppy and can be transformed into heroin using a simple chemical reaction. Opiate drugs like morphine and its derivatives, including oxycodone and codeine, are the best and most powerful drugs for treating pain, the most common complaint that we have in medicine. Surgery would be impossible without the use of drugs like morphine.
Economic impact. The economies of several Third World countries such as Afghanistan-the world's largest producer of illicit opium-and Burma are based on the production of opiates.
- Cultural influence. In the 19th century Romantic artists, writers, and composers used opium, the crude extract of the poppy, for recreational rather than medicinal purposes. Opium's effects directly influenced much of their work. One of the most notable examples comes from essayist Thomas De Quincey, author of Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and a key figure in the development of recreational drug taking in Europe and the United States.