The Opioid Crisis:  A Historical Perspective

For March 28, 2018

Hi WN@TL Fans,

When my wife was in the third day of her prodromal labor in delivering our first-born, when the days of pain and the nights of sleeplessness had drained her out, her doc decided to give Kristen a shot of morphine to let her rest before inducing labor.

I had never before witnessed the effects of the poppy-derived drug.  I was astonished by what I saw. Kristen slept the sleep of a baby, peaceful, the stress erased from her face.

The word “morphine” is derived from Morpheus, a Greek god of sleep and dreams.  It has long been a dream of humans to have extracts or elixirs that bring relief from profound pain and bestow the relief of sleep.  But morphine and other opioids can also bring the nightmares of addiction, abuse and death.

The United States today is in the grip of an opioid crisis, with 42,200 Americans killed by opioid overdoses in 2017, exceeding the 33,000 killed in 2016.  In comparison, 37,461 Americans died in roadway crashes in 2016.

While opioid drugs are responsible for improving the quality of life for people in serious pain, opioid overdoses are also largely responsible for the unusual back-to-back drops in US life expectancy in 2016 and in 2017.

Tomorrow night (March 28) Professor Emerita June Dahl will speak on “The Opioid Crisis:  A Historical Perspective.”   Here’s how she describes her talk:

“Our understanding of the origin of pain has undergone dramatic changes since the times of Plato and Aristotle, both of whom thought that pain was an emotional — not a sensory — experience. Descartes (1596–1650) was more accurate when he described pain as an internal mechanical process. Fortunately, the treatment of pain was not delayed by a lack of understanding about the mechanisms underlying its origins. In fact, Hippocrates (460–370 BC) reported the painkilling properties of opium. In her talk, June Dahl will provide a review of opioids and their use, and she will address the importance of maintaining a balance so that efforts to reduce abuse of these drugs today do not interfere with their appropriate medical use.

About the Speaker

Dahl arrived in Madison with her husband when he joined UW–Madison’s Department of Chemistry. At that time, she conducted research with faculty members in the Department of Pharmacology in the School of Medicine and Public Health and was later asked to teach medical students. In 1984, she was appointed to the Controlled Substances Board, Wisconsin’s drug regulatory authority. It was service on that board — along with a bill introduced into Congress in 1986 to make heroin available for pain treatment for the dying — that led to her focus on educational and policy issues directed at improving the management of pain. Dahl earned her doctorate in physical chemistry from Iowa State University.


Next week, a trifecta for you and your friends.

On Wednesday night April 4 Catherine Jackson and Tracy Drier give a talk & demonstration entitled, “In the Flame of a Proper Lamp: Glass and Glassblowing in Making Modern Chemistry.”

Thursday night April 5 is a special evening as the Biotechnology Center gratefully accepts the gift of the work entitled “Ubiquitous: Migration of Pathogens” donated by Pamela Caughey, artist, and by Byron Caughey, prion researcher.  Starting at 7:00 pm Byron will give a talk entitled “Corrupted Proteins as Pathogens: Prion Diseases and Prion-Like Features of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Related Diseases.”  At 7:30 Pamela will speak on the making & meanings of “Ubiquitous.” At 8:00 pm I invite you to join me at the unveiling and reception in the Atrium just outside the Auditorium.  I hope you can join us in celebrating the art, the research that inspired it, and the two people who have generously given the work to the University.

Friday night April 6 is the opening evening of the 16th Annual UW Science Expeditions campus open house.  I am delighted to extend a special invitation to WN@TL participants to come at 7:00 pm to the Wisconsin Historical Society Auditorium on Library Mall for a presentation on the use of deep-sea robots to explore shipwrecks in the Great Lakes.

I’d be grateful if you’d share the the news about “Ubiquitous” and UW Science Expeditions with your family, friends, neighbors and colleagues.

By the way, I’m on vacation this week with my family.  We’re in balmy Washington DC for spring break.  Good news: the snow is nearly all melted in DC.  Bad news: the cherry blossoms are going to be a bit late this year.

Since I’m away, my colleague Liz Jesse will be the emcee for Professor Dahl’s presentation.

Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab!

Thanks again,

Tom Zinnen
UW-Madison and UW-Extension