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Do Aspirin and Heroin Have Anything in Common?

Shakespeare wrote that "misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows," and what stranger bedfellows for misery than aspirin and heroin? The two drugs grew out of a particularly creative two-week period of work by Bayer chemist Felix Hoffmann in 1897. While on duty in the pharmaceutical giant's lab in Germany, Hoffmann synthesized acetylsalicylic acid in the hopes of curing his father's painful rheumatism. The resulting medication was eventually named aspirin, and over time, it has brought a windfall to Bayer, which technically still holds the patent to the word "aspirin," despite its universal use as a generic term. In fact, until just after World War I, Bayer was the only company in the world allowed to make aspirin, which became the first mass-marketed drug in 1899. Heroin, of course, took a different route, and today is blamed for a relative epidemic of deaths among users. For his part, Hoffmann could blame his creation on an accident. At the time, he was attempting to acetylate morphine to produce codeine when he accidentally synthesized the more potent heroin.

Pains and gains:

  • Generally speaking, Americans swallow aspirin whole, while the British more frequently dissolve aspirin in water.

  • It wasn't until the 1970s that a scientist learned that aspirin works by reducing a person's production of a type of fatty acid that causes swelling and pain.

  • Aspirin should always be taken with food; otherwise, it can lead to stomach issues, including ulcers, nausea, internal bleeding, and burning pain.

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