Triple Crossing Beer - FultonRichmond, VA, United States

Profs & Pints Richmond: Pain Relief's Reckless Pioneers

By Profs and Pints (other events)

Wednesday, June 26 2024 6:00 PM 8:30 PM EDT

Profs and Pints Richmond presents: “Pain Relief’s Reckless Pioneers,” a look at how self-medicating 19th century physicians changed attitudes toward suffering and laid the foundations for today's global opioid crisis, with Sara Black, assistant professor of history at Christopher Newport University and author of Drugging France: Mind-Altering Medicine in the Long Nineteenth Century.

How did surgery go from being an agonizing, sometimes-violent ordeal to becoming a calm medical procedure that patients could experience unconsciously and painlessly? When and how did people start regarding pain as something to be relieved or dulled—even if it meant self-medicating or using now-illicit drugs—rather than as an inescapable part of life?

Hear such questions answered and gain insights into the origins of today’s opioid crisis with historian of medicine Sara Black, who has extensively researched the development of anesthesia and painkilling drugs. Focusing on 19th century France—an epicenter of pharmacological research and, later, opiate addiction—she’ll discuss how the field of medicine forever altered patients’ expectations about pain and how the French people came to view pain relief as a fundamental human right.

Professor Black will discuss how self-experimentation was at the foundation of pharmacological research in the 19th century, with doctors using their bodies to test the effects of substances like chloroform, opium, and hashish. Self-experimentation allowed doctors to determine the proper doses for eliminating pain, sensation, and consciousness. Ultimately, the discoveries they made would revolutionize experiences such as surgery and childbirth. 

You’ll learn how pain-relieving drugs like opium were prescribed to treat everything from headaches to hysteria and became commonplace commodities in French society. Doctors capitalized on the pain- relieving qualities of these drugs as a means of enhancing their standing in the eyes of patients. Gradually, though, it became clear that doctors had unleashed something beyond their control, as patients came to demand pharmaceutical solutions to pain and to challenge the authority of doctors to determine when such solutions were needed. By the 1880s doctors’ enthusiasm for opiates had produced the unintended consequences of widespread self-medication and opiate addiction. 

Learning about this fascinating chapter of medical history will give you a new perspective on pain and a greater appreciation of medicine’s ability to relieve it. (Advance tickets: $13.50 plus sales tax and processing fees. Doors: $17, or $15 with a student ID. Listed time is for doors. Talk starts 30 minutes later.)  

Image: A glass ampoule of liquid chloroform owned by a surgeon in mid-1800s Paris. (Photo from the Wellcome Trust / Creative Commons.)