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Cocaine anyone?

They say that cocaine is God's way of telling you you are making too much money. It is the second most sold drug in the world. But it wasn't always considered a drug and for hundreds of years was an essential part of many daily medicinal cures.

I HAVE COCAINE AT HOME... Yes indeed, in the HealthWorks Collection are several emergency kits, some of which contain such exotic things as ampoules of cocaine, caffeine, morphine and digitalis. Guess I know now why I am so popular with my 22-year-old daughter's friends...

This particular set of ampoules is particularly interesting, as it was made by Laboratoires Dausse, which was one of the starting points of what has today become Sanofi.

This is the actual chronology:

1834 - Creation of Laboratoires Dausse

1899 - Creation of Laboratoires Robert & Carrière

1970 - Fusion of the two companies (Dausse and Robert & Carrière) to form the Synthélabo Group

1973 - Purchase by L'Oréal of the majority of Synthélabo shares

1979/1991 - Purchase of various smaller pharma companies by Synthélabo (Porgès, Métablo-Jouillié, Ela Medical, Delagrange, Delalande)

1993 - L'Oréal fuses Synthélabo and Laboratoires Goupil and becomes the 3rd largest French pharmaceutical company.

1998 - L'Oréal and Elf, the 2 largest shareholders, decide to merge Synthélabo with Sanofi (2nd largest French pharmaceutical company, to form the Sanofi-Synthélabo Group.

2011 - Sanofi-Synthélabo becomes Sanofi

I'm not addicted to cocaine. I just like the way it smells

Richard Pryor

A History of cocaine for medical use

Cocaine is a white, powdery derivation from the coca plant which grows wild in South America. Cocaine currently has a well-deserved reputation as a dangerous drug, but in the very beginning, its use was fairly benign. In 1900, cocaine wasn’t just a drug – it was the drug that could cure anything that ailed a patient.

German pharmaceutical company Merck began producing very small amounts of the drug in the early 1860s. Total output through the late 1870s was only about 50 grams a year. In the US, pharmaceutical company Parke Davis also began producing the drug.

Then in the 1880s, medical uses of the drug began to be revealed. For example, Merck’s promotional materials touted the drug as a remedy for the morphine addiction suffered by many former Civil War soldiers.

One of the early enthusiasts for the drug was Sigmund Freud. He was interested in the opportunity offered by this new drug and began to experiment on himself and friends. He wrote to his fiancee, “I take very small doses of it regularly against depression and against indigestion and with the most brilliant of success.” Dr. Freud used this drug on himself and his associates for the next decade and wrote his glowing praise for cocaine in the 70-page report “Uber Cocaine.”

In 1884, cocaine’s value in performing eye surgery were discovered by Freud’s friend Dr. Koller. The drug not only numbed the eye but restricted bleeding because it tightened up blood vessels.

Production of cocaine began to increase greatly in response to increased medical use. In 1883, Merck produced only 400g of the drug. By 1885, their production had rocketed to over 80kg. This increase began just two months after Dr. Koller’s report on cocaine for eye surgery was published.

As further applications were discovered, the popularity of cocaine grew rapidly. Along with pharmaceutical applications, over the counter "magical" preparations also began to include cocaine. Just about all of them were plain quackery but were quite fun. Examples include miraculous cocaine toothache drops, “Instantaneous Cure!” or Metcalf’s Coca Wine “for fatigue of mind or body”.

Chemists at Parke Davis developed a refinement system that called for partial refinement on site in South America, with the remaining refining taking place at the pharmaceutical company. This discovery made the cocaine industry much more viable, as potency would not be lost while shipping the coca leaves from South America to the US or Europe.

In 1887, the US Surgeon General recommended that cocaine be used to treat depression, claiming that there was no such thing as cocaine addiction.

Cocaine damage begins to appear at the end of the 19th century but it would be another 17 years before the danger of the drug was recognized sufficiently to make it a controlled substance.

The US makes cocaine illegal

In 1914, the Harrison Narcotics Act rounded up a list of drugs that had been used in patent medicines or pharmaceutical compounds and put them under federal control. Cocaine was on the list. This change meant that those who were now addicted to cocaine could be arrested if they possessed the drug.

Despite reports of some increased use during Prohibition, cocaine was not a newsworthy topic until the second half of the Twentieth Century when cocaine began pouring into the US from South America.

“Look, I know you think I have a coke problem but I do not. I can quit any time I run out.”

Keith Buckley

In the late 1970s, Colombian drug traffickers began setting up an elaborate network for smuggling cocaine into the US.

Traditionally, cocaine was a rich man’s drug, due to the large expense of a cocaine habit. By the late 1980s, cocaine was no longer thought of as the drug of choice for the wealthy. By then, it had the reputation of America’s most dangerous and addictive drug, linked with poverty, crime and death.

In the early 1990s, the Colombian drug cartels produced and exported 500 to 800 tons of cocaine a year, shipping not only to the US but also to Europe and Asia. The large cartels were dismantled by law enforcement agencies in the mid-1990s, but they were replaced by smaller groups—with more than 300 known active drug smuggling organizations in Colombia today.

In 2008, cocaine became the second most trafficked illegal drug in the world.

Visit for more fascinating articles on medical history.


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