Heroin was synthesized from morphine in 1874 by an English chemist, but was not produced commercially until 1898 by the Bayer Pharmaceutical Company. Attempts were made to use heroin in place of morphine due to problems of morphine abuse. However, it turned out that heroin was also highly addictive, and was eventually classified as an illegal drug in the United States. Today, heroin in the United States comes mostly from Southeast Asia, Southwest Asia, Latin America and Mexico.It is typically sold in a white or brownish powder form or as a black sticky substance known as “black tar” heroin (black tar from Mexico is the most common form of the drug in Arizona).
There have been at least two major heroin epidemics in the United States. The first one began after World War II and the second began in the late 1960s. During the first epidemic, the highest incidence of use occurred in the late 1940s and early 1950s; during the second, the highest incidence occurred between 1971 and 1977. Both epidemics appear to have subsided due to lack of purity in the heroin that was available, and the increasing cost of heroin.
At the time of the second epidemic, heroin use was prevalent among enlisted men serving in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. From 1969 to 1971, opiates were cheaply available in that country. Because most of the enlisted men were 18-20 years old and not allowed to buy liquor on the base, they may have had an added incentive to try heroin as an available alternative. The most common way the enlisted men used heroin was by snorting it or mixing it with tobacco or marijuana and smoking it.