Australian experience of analgesia
in the mid 20th century
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: The photographs and information has been kindly provided by Don Burge, a retired pharmacist, and Terry Omond OAM, curator of the Calvary Hospital Museum .
Pain relief was an important part of medical treatment. The best known and oldest analgesics are derived are derived from the poppy (opiates) and the willow bark (salicylic acid). Opium was used by the Sumerians and Homer referred to it in the Iliad (900 BC). Laudanum, an opiate was often used in Victorian times. Morphine was synthetised in the early 1900. Because of the addictive effects of opium and its analogues the use was limited by the medical profession to intractable pain only.
Less severe pain was managed by Aspirin, Phenacetin and Codeine.
Salicylic acid (salacin) was produced in the 1830s and commercial Aspirin was developed by Hoffman in 1899 and made the Bayer drug company famous.
Phenacetin was introduced in 1887 as an analgesic and antipyretic. Australia developed its own pain killers such as BEX, Vincent’s APC and Veganin. They contained a mixture of aspirin phenacetin and caffeine or codeine and were popular. The side effects of phenacetin leading to interstitial nephritis and papillary necrosis resulting in renal failure, first reported in 1970 and phenacetin was removed from the pain preparations. Paracetamol which was known in the early 1900s as acetaminophen has become more popular recently.