Published on: January 31, 2012

The celebrated 19th century physician Oliver Wendell Holmes included morphine (poppy) among the very few medicines which should be retained by the medical science of that day. He recommended sinking the rest to the bottom of the sea, but was then worried about the fishes!

Throw out opium, which the Creator himself seems to prescribe, for we often see the scarlet poppy growing in the cornfields, as if it were foreseen that wherever there is hunger to be fed there must also be a pain to be soothed; throw out a few specifics which our art did not discover, and it is hardly needed to apply; throw out wine, which is a food, and the vapors which produce the miracle of anaesthesia, and I firmly believe that if the whole materia medica [medical drugs], as now used, could be sunk to the bottom of the sea, it would be all the better for mankind,—and all the worse for the fishes. — Oliver Wendell Holmes, ‘Currents and Counter-Currents in Medical Science’, Address to Massachusetts Medical Society (30 May 1860).

Morphine is in the “Essential Medicine list” of the World Health Organization.  And, it’s importance is even understood in the art world, see this design by Dan Golden:

Each one of us is a potential patient; it is very likely that we shall need it some time in our lives. 

Is it not time we stood up and asked our hospitals,

“Does your pharmacy have oral morphine?  If not, what kind of a hospital are you running, without even essential medicines?”

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