History time! In 1939 scientists working for notorious German chemical manufacturers I. G. Farbenindustrie discovered what they called ‘compound 8909’, or Dolantin – an opioid analgesic later to be known as pethidine. Despite early hopes, pethidine turned out to addictive, and so Farben’s search for a non-habit forming analgesic continued… Between 1937—38 they developed a related substance, ‘Hoechst 10820’ (later, Polamidon), acting both as an analgesic and as a spasmolytic. The Nazis began further testing in 1942, under the code name Amidon. Five years later (after the Allies had seized all German patents, trade names and research) the Council on Pharmacy and Chemistry of the American Medical Association renamed Amidon to Methadone. Pharma-giant Eli-Lilly (having brought production rights for $1) began commercial production soon after, as Dolophine).
Farben also owned the patent for infamous pesticide Zyklon B (used to horrible effect in the gas chambers of the Holocaust), as well as holding a 42.2% stake in Zyklon’s manufacturing company, Degesch (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Schädlingsbekämpfung).
Predating the SS camps in the area, Farben had also operated the Buna Chemical Plant at Auschwitz, where 83,000 slaves and other prisoners were forced to produce synthetic oil and rubber. Twelve executives from of the company were later sentenced to prison terms for mass murder and slavery, at the 1948 Nuremberg trials.
Methadone was but one of many drugs of interest to the Nazis – since the outbreak of the war they had been using pervitine, an amphetamine, code named OBM, supplied by the drug’s manufacturers Temmel (who went on to upply the military with 29,000,000 pervitine pills in 1939 alone! The Knoll company supplied their own, “slightly modified”, version too, as Isophan. Many troops became addicted to these concoctions, causing them to experience circulatory disorders, a reduction in their ability to concentrate and, occasionally, even death.
Not satisfied with their existing chemical arsenal, in 1944 the Nazis initiated Experiment D-IX, at Sachsenhausen concentration camp. To test D-IX, a “method for preserving the energy of a human body”, inmates carrying 20kg backpacks were marched for 24 hours a day. D-IX pills were intended “to turn German soldiers into tireless and fearless warriors”, and contained 5 milligrams of cocaine, 3 of pervitine, 5 of eucodal (a morphine-based painkiller) and a quantity of synthetic cocaine for good luck.
An honourable mention must also go to Bayer (still in business today), sponsors of the “angel of death” Dr. Mengele. Fritz ter Meers, Bayer’s chairman from 1956 onwards, was later sentenced at the Nuremberg trials to 7 years in prison…