Aspirin: The History Behind The Heroin Addict Who Invented It

By | March 4, 2020

Not to alarm you, but those little white pills that make your headaches dissolve and soothe inflamed muscles have more in common with heroin than you think, i.e. anything at all. Not only are both drugs technically painkillers, they were also first commercially synthesized at the same time by the Bayer pharmaceutical company. Both drugs had been around for some time before the drug conglomerate mass produced the pills, but it's thanks to a few different scientists/low-key drug addicts, namely Heinrich Dreser and Felix Hoffmann, that we all have a bottle of aspirin hidden away in our medicine cabinets today.

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Two Guys "Invented" Aspirin

One of the two scientists who receive most of the credit for "discovering" aspirin is Heinrich Dreser, a professor who was researching codeine's effect on breathing for the Bayer pharmaceutical company in 1898. He proposed that diacetylmorphine—a white, crystalline variation of morphine—could be marketed as a cure-all to the masses after he performed some home tests on himself. As he felt his breathing slow and his pain drift away, he realized that he hit the jackpot.

The other, Felix Hoffmann, was a young pharmacist who bounced around Germany and Austria before he was appointed to the research department at Bayer to create chemical substances to be used as medication.

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Hoffmann's Father Inspired His Research

It wasn't just Hoffmann's job to synthesize new chemicals for Bayer to patent; it was his passion. In 1897, he was searching for a pain reliever for his father's rheumatism when he stumbled upon a version of synthesized acetylsalicylic acid. The new drug was named aspirin for the plant it came from, Spirea, with an "A" for "acetyl." The same year, Hoffmann tested a similar, more powerful drug that Bayer employees said made them feel "heroic," or heroisch if you're German.