Expert Interview: The Rise Of Opioid Addiction

May 13, 2016

Howard Markel is an expert on addiction history and treats addiction patients as a physician. He's also the director of the Center for the History of Medicine at the University of Michigan.
Credit University of Michigan Medical School

A Reno doctor and eight others were indicted for an alleged drug ring this week involving the illicit sale of prescription painkillers like oxycodone. The situation has been sparking concerns across the region, but addiction is not a new battle for any community.

To learn more about the history of addiction, our News Director Michelle Billman spoke to Dr. Howard Markel, a medical historian at the University of Michigan. He was in Reno Friday delivering the commencement speech for the University of Nevada School of Medicine.

"As long as there's been substances that have altered the mind, humans have sought them out and some of those people have had problems  in the form of addiction," Markel explains.

But the term addiction didn't enter medical textbooks until the late 19th Century when opium and morphine were brought to the Western world, the hypodermic syringe was invented, and then pharmaceutical companies extracted cocaine from coca leaves. These medical advances quickly led to abuse.

"Many of the first drug addicts were actually created by their doctors," Markel says. "Women, in particular, they were frequently treated with morphine and these poor people became addicts."

Our interview with Markel also explores the rise of synthetic opioids like oxycodone, his work as a doctor treating patients with addiction, and helpful initiatives that have been surfacing across the country.