November 30, 2023

unic power

health life

How Civil War Medicine Led to America’s First Opioid Crisis

4 min read

During the Civil War, military hospitals considered opioids to be essential medicine. Doctors and nurses used opium and morphine to treat soldiers’ pain, stop internal bleeding and mitigate vomiting and diarrhea caused by infectious diseases. However, this led some soldiers to develop opioid addictions, either during the war or afterward when they sought medical treatment for wartime injuries or illnesses.

For many Civil War veterans, opioid addictions were life-ruining. Veterans’ dependency made them fatigued and emaciated, and could lead to a fatal overdose. In some cases, opioid addiction could threaten a veteran’s ability to receive a pension. In 1895, a Union veteran named Charles L. Williams stated in an application to a soldiers’ home that he was “totally unable to earn a living” since he had “contracted [the] opium habit during war.”

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