The widely publicized notion about baby boomers mellowing as a natural result of the aging process seems to be wildly erroneous. Well, at least according to the U.S Federal Government’s Annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health. On Wednesday, September 3, 2013, what Uncle Sugar calls its most thorough most comprehensive (and expensive) study ever concerning who’s using which drug was released. There’s nothing shocking in it, to be sure. Still, the most noteworthy research and stats are taken from a sum control group of 70,000 people in separate geographical locations, of varying ethnic backgrounds and mixed economic success. The implicit message is: Once a furry freak brother, always a furry freak brother.
In fact, when I called my old hippie friend and native of California’s legendary Topanga Canyon, Anton ‘Doobie’ Chang, to ask for his thoughts, all he could come up with was, “Right on. You can’t keep the dopers down.”
Perhaps the most vilified drug users these days are so-called ‘speed freaks.’ In our celebrity-driven 24-hour-per-day news cycle, methamphetamine or hillbilly crack is a fairly new to the publicized part of the drug subculture. In the midst of a worldwide recession, the collective hunger for Crystal Meth got a lot of free Hollywood publicity via writer Vince Gilligan’s T.V. hit Breaking Bad. Now heading into its fifth and final season, the show humanized an underground world dominated by greed and desperation as a common everyman high school chemistry teacher, forced to confront the massive cost of treatment for cancer, became a drug kingpin. The drug craze itself seems to have paralleled the zigzag spike of the show as the number of acknowledged meth users in 2012 fell to 440,000, down from 731,000 in 2006. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, which conducted that survey, attributed the drop to states suddenly restricting the sale of key ingredients, like pseudo-ephedrine which is found in over-the-counter cold medicines at your local pharmacy and, of course, the millions more who watched the show.
At the same time, between 2007 and 2012, the number of Americans shooting up heroin nearly doubled, up to 373,000 from 669,000. But, as the wildly successful druggy poet/rock star Jim Carroll put it, “Many heroin users are incarcerated, living on the street or homeless. Definitely not in places where egghead university surveyors can find them, for sure…” The late Carroll’s drug of choice, before his heart gave out from years of hard drinking and narcotics abuse was the subject of scores of rock ‘n’ roll songs. As the United States has increased its economic dependence upon Communist China for cheap goods, so has the flow of cheap heroin. Simply put, the Chinese version of the Mexican Brown that so many junkies were strung out on in the 60s to the 80s is much purer, far stronger and far more likely to lead the user down the path of total addiction far faster. Thus old habits die hard and boomer junkies are now living in the best of times provided they have the income to maintain.
Badly policed Chinese and Canadian manufacturers have also moved into the manufacture of bootleg prescription drugs. Stronger and theoretically ‘safer’ than street-bought heroin, opiate substitutes like methadone and Oxycontin, aka ‘Hillbilly heroin’, have also been part of a raging boom due to the Internet. “This is the best time to be a junkie in human recorded history. Dealer-manufacturers can send their addictive products direct from warehouses or from dead-letter-box addresses anywhere a buyer wants,” a Chicago Police Department Narcotics Division detective, Michael Scuornovacco, told me. “Opioids, man, are an easy path for old folks living off low pensions and their social security pensions.”
Finally, there’s plain Mary-Jane! Marijuana has long been the most commonly used narcotic in the West. In America, however, its popularity is reaching, umm, new highs. As of 2012, 18.9m people used marijuana – 7.3 percent of the population, which is up from 14.5m in 2007. The number of daily users, now at least 7.6m Americans, is growing as well. Part of that rise is not so much a growing acceptance of the drug, but the deaths of so many members of the less accepting World War II-era ‘Greatest Generation.’ At the same time, 20 separate states and Washington, D.C. have passed legislation allowing ‘medical’ use, while, less hypocritically, Colorado and Washington State simply legalized recreational smoking.
One final statistic that may surprise folks but shouldn’t: Drug use among older people is way up. In 2012, 7.2 percent of adults age 50 to 64 got high, up from 3.4 percent a decade ago. Among those aged 55 to 59, the drug use rate more than tripled, from 1.9 percent to 6.6 percent. Come 2020, that old Dylan lyric will prove more apt than ever. “Everybody must get stoned.”