In January 1949 Police broke into a room in the Mark Twain Hotel in San Francisco and arrested Billie Holiday and her manager John Levy on charges of possession of opium. Her defense attorney Jake Erlich, fingered Levy as an informer and persuaded the jury to return a verdict of not guilty.

In 1959, while hospitalized for liver and heart disease, Billie Holiday was handcuffed and arrested by the FBI for drug possession as she lay dying in her hospital room – she was 44 years old.

Source: History of Heroin in America

In 1803 the drug morphine was created from opium. Widely used during the American Civil War, it led to the first wave of morphine addiction.

Opium smoking was introduced to America by Chinese immigrants in the mid-19th century. Throughout the 19th century many women were prescribed opium tonics and elixirs alleged to cure “female” maladies.

Heroin was created in 1895 and marketed three years to morphine addicts as part of a campaign against morphine addiction. Thereafter, heroin addiction grew.

Subsequent waves of opiate addiction in America occurred in:

  • the 1930-40 Harlem jazz scene
  • during the 1950s Beatnik culture.
  • U.S soldiers in the Vietnam War 1955-75
  • With improved purity, smoking and snorting heroin in the 1980-90s
  • In the late 1980s, physicians claimed chronic opioid therapy was safe for patients with intractable pain and no history of drug abuse. Financial support for a campaign against under-treatment of chronic pain provided by manufacturers of prescription opioid products e.g., Percocet®),Actiq® and OxyContin®) led to the current opioid epidemic. From 1991-2013 prescribers tripled the number of prescriptions written for opioids.
  • Evidence now suggests that many abusers of prescription opioids are shifting to heroin as prescription drugs become less available or harder to abuse.