The history of heroin begins with the opium poppy plant which can be traced back as far as 3400 BC in lower Mesopotamia. Opium became a major global commodity by the latter half of the 19th century. In December 1804, Morphine was discovered as the first active alkaloid extracted from the opium poppy plant by German scientist Friedrich Sertürner. Then in 1874, English chemist, C.R. Alder Wright had been experimenting with combining morphine with various acids. He boiled anhydrous morphine alkaloid with acetic anhydride over a stove for several hours and produced a more potent, acetylated form of morphine, now called diacetylmorphine (heroin). Alder Wrights discovery did not lead to any further developments until 23 years later, where diacetylmorphine was re-synthesized by Felix Hoffmann, a chemist from the Bayer Pharmaceutical company in Germany.
Heroin's fame in history became recognized during this period from 1898 through 1910 where Bayer marketed heroin as a non-addictive morphine substitute and cough suppressant, not realizing that this new formula produced an acetylated form of morphine one and a half to two times more potent than morphine itself. The company was somewhat embarrassed by this new finding and it became a historical blunder for Bayer.
By 1914, the history of heroin was changed by the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act which controlled the sale and distribution of "heroin" but allowed the drug to be prescribed and sold for medical purposes only. Finally, in 1924 the United States Congress made heroin a Schedule I substance, which makes it illegal for non-medical use and banned all sales, importation or manufacturing of the drug. Even though Heroin was now illegal, heroin history shows that those who were determined to profit off heroin addiction persevered and continued to create heroin and smuggle it along shipping routes and to the people who were addicted to the drug.
Prior to World War II, the largest heroin suppliers to the U.S. in heroin history were Japan and China. Then, once the war started, heroin trade was nearly eliminated. The normal trade routes become disrupted in Japan and China, and it became more difficult for people to get heroin in and out of countries. Soon after the World War II, however, the Italian Mafia seized the opportunity to create heroin labs, and set them up in Sicily. This trade from Sicily replaced the trade that had formerly come from China as the once-massive heroin exporter stopped nearly all production after the communists came to power.
The history of heroin confirms that after World War II finished and up until around 1970, most of the opium that entered the United States came from Iran, until the U.S. and the UN forced Iran to start eradicating opium fields in their country. As Iran became less of a supplier, a so-called "Golden Triangle" opened up in Asia with opium fields and production facilities to create heroin in mass quantities. Other countries began to fill in the gaps left by the Iranians, including Turkey, Lebanon and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan in particular, production increased sharply during their war with the Soviets, which led to lower overall heroin prices on the world market. As these other countries increased their production, the once powerful Sicily cartels began to dwindle and increased law enforcement presence in Italy contributed to this decline. Heroin addiction in the United States, however, continued to thrive as Central and South American suppliers leaped to fill the gap in production.
Today, Heroin is shipped all over the world, most of it coming from the biggest producer of heroin, Afghanistan. In 2004, a survey produced by the United Nations estimated that Afghanistan accounts for nearly 87 percent of all of the heroin production in the entire world. Ever since the wars began in the country, poppy plant production has increased, and peaked in 2006.