Opium has been known for millennia to relieve pain and its use for surgical analgesia has been recorded for several centuries. The Sumerian clay tablet (about 2100 BC) is considered to be the world's oldest recorded list of medical prescriptions. It is believed by some scholars that the opium poppy is referred to on the tablet. Some objects from the ancient Greek Minoan culture may also suggest the knowledge of the poppy. A goddess from about 1500 BC shows her hair adorned probably with poppy-capsules and her closed eyes disclose sedation. Also juglets probably imitating the poppy-capsules were found in that period in both Cyprus and Egypt. The first authentic reference to the milky juice of the poppy we find by Theophrastus at the beginning of the third century BC. In the first century the opium poppy and opium was known by Dioscorides, Pliny and Celsus and later on by Galen. Celsus suggests the use of opium before surgery and Dioscorides recommended patients should take mandrake (contains scopolamine and atropine) mixed with wine, before limb amputation. The Arabic physicians used opium very extensively and about 1000 AD it was recommended by Avicenna especially in diarrhoea and diseases of the eye. Polypharmacy, including a mixture of nonsensical medications were often used. Fortunately for both patients and physicians many of the preparations contained opium. The goal was a panacea for all diseases. A famous and expensive panacea was theriaca containing up to sixty drugs including opium. Simplified preparations of opium such as tinctura opii were used up to about 2000 in Denmark. In the early 1800s sciences developed and Sertürner isolated morphine from opium and was the founder of alkaloid research. A more safe and standardized effect was obtained by the pure opium. Several morphine-like drugs have been synthesized to minimize adverse effects and abuse potential. Opioid receptors were identified and characterized in binding assays and their localization examined. However, the complexity of the system including interaction with several neurons and transmitters indicate the goal of nonaddictive opiates to be elusive. Combination therapy, innovative delivery systems and long-acting formulations may improve clinical utility.