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A functional dependence? A social history of the medical use of morphine in Australia

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The history of morphine use in Australia has shaped public perception and current challenges

Morphine has had an important role in the history of Australia and continues to play a major part in the medical, social and economic aspects of this country.1 The extent of its multitude of uses (and misuses), its constant depiction in the media, and its role in the history of Australia have created a complex public understanding of the drug. There is a broad array of perceptions regarding addiction, tolerance, fear of side effects and an association with death, which may complicate morphine’s use in clinical care.2 An understanding of the history of morphine in Australia can enable a greater understanding of its current use, and provide some background to the increases in opioid prescription seen in the past two decades.3,4

Such a rapid expansion in the use of medical morphine has been experienced before in Australia, on a much greater scale, towards the end of the 19th century before the creation of a regulatory system.5 Although Australia currently has the fifth highest per capita consumption of licit morphine, this is a marked decrease…