Baby Boomers Still Doing Drugs as Seniors

By chillinwill · Jan 10, 2010 · ·
  1. chillinwill
    Almost 5 percent of aging Baby Boomers in the United States are abusing drugs, a new government report shows.

    That's about 4.3 million adults over the age of 50 who are smoking marijuana, abusing prescription medication and engaging in other illicit drug activity -- a number that far exceeds that of their parents' generation.

    "This is becoming more and more apparent in practice," said Dr. Ihsan M. Salloum, chief of the Division of Alcohol and Drug Abuse: Treatment and Research at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "You have both prescription drugs being used that people can become addicted to and also people who have had a pattern of use from before."

    The driving force behind the trend, said Peter Delany, director of the Office of Applied Studies at the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), is people who used drugs when they were younger and never really stopped.

    This is, after all, the era of the Rolling Stones as senior citizens.

    The projected increase in the number of older drug abusers is expected to double the demand for treatment services by 2020, the report stated.

    The report, based on data collected during 2006-08 from almost 20,000 U.S. adults born between 1946 and 1964, found that more men are smoking marijuana than are abusing prescription drugs (4.2 percent vs. 2.3 percent). About the same proportion of women engage in both behaviors (hovering near 2 percent).

    Many more men aged 50 to 54 acknowledged using marijuana in the previous year than women (8.5 percent vs. 3.9 percent).

    Pot smoking was more prevalent among the younger end of the spectrum (those aged 50 to 59), while prescription drug abuse was more common in the older age bracket (aged 65 and up).

    Less than 1 percent of older adults said they had used drugs other than pot or prescription-like medications, including 0.5 percent for cocaine, 0.1 percent for hallucinogens and 0.1 percent for heroin.

    In the period 2002-06, the annual average number of people over the age of 50 using illicit drugs was 2.8 million.

    Although "harder" drugs such as crystal meth and cocaine aren't the main offenders in this demographic, drug use among older, generally more frail, individuals does bring special concerns.

    "This population tends to have other health problems, especially chronic health problems," Delany explained. "And as we age we don't metabolize drugs the same way."

    Also, older people with a substance-abuse diagnosis are much more at risk of suicide, said Dr. David Schlager, clinical assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and a psychiatrist with Lone Star Circle of Care, which has health clinics throughout Texas.

    Finding appropriate treatments for this group adds more potential complications.

    "We don't really have data and research for the most effective treatments for older individuals," said Jeffrey Parsons, chair of psychology at Hunter College in New York City. "Are existing programs effective or do we need to start from scratch?"

    And the two different groups of older drug users -- those with new addictions and those with long-term issues -- may need different treatments, he added.

    Not to mention the inherent limitations in drug abuse treatment and services as they currently stand. "The treatment is not terrible advanced," Schlager noted.

    On the other hand, Schlager said, Baby Boomers may be in a better position both to access what services there are and to pay for them.

    By Amanda Gardner
    January 9, 2010

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  1. Eratosthenese
    I can only imagine the percentage of people over fifty that admit to using psychoactives will only go up with this new generation. More than 40% of people I know admit to using marijuana.
  2. old hippie 56
    Aw, the joys of being labeled a "baby boomer" drug user. Cowboy only know a few people his age that don't do illicit drugs.
  3. chillinwill
    Marijuana use by seniors goes up as boomers age

    In her 88 years, Florence Siegel has learned how to relax: A glass of red wine. A crisp copy of The New York Times, if she can wrest it from her husband. Some classical music, preferably Bach. And every night like clockwork, she lifts a pipe to her lips and smokes marijuana.

    Long a fixture among young people, use of the country's most popular illicit drug is now growing among the AARP set, as the massive generation of baby boomers who came of age in the 1960s and '70s grows older.

    The number of people aged 50 and older reporting marijuana use in the prior year went up from 1.9 percent to 2.9 percent from 2002 to 2008, according to surveys from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

    The rise was most dramatic among 55- to 59-year-olds, whose reported marijuana use more than tripled from 1.6 percent in 2002 to 5.1 percent.

    Observers expect further increases as 78 million boomers born between 1945 and 1964 age. For many boomers, the drug never held the stigma it did for previous generations, and they tried it decades ago.

    Some have used it ever since, while others are revisiting the habit in retirement, either for recreation or as a way to cope with the aches and pains of aging.

    Siegel walks with a cane and has arthritis in her back and legs. She finds marijuana has helped her sleep better than pills ever did. And she can't figure out why everyone her age isn't sharing a joint, too.

    "They're missing a lot of fun and a lot of relief," she said.

    Politically, advocates for legalizing marijuana say the number of older users could represent an important shift in their decades-long push to change the laws.

    "For the longest time, our political opponents were older Americans who were not familiar with marijuana and had lived through the 'Reefer Madness' mentality and they considered marijuana a very dangerous drug," said Keith Stroup, the founder and lawyer of NORML, a marijuana advocacy group.

    "Now, whether they resume the habit of smoking or whether they simply understand that it's no big deal and that it shouldn't be a crime, in large numbers they're on our side of the issue."

    Each night, 66-year-old Stroup says he sits down to the evening news, pours himself a glass of wine and rolls a joint. He's used the drug since he was a freshman at Georgetown, but many older adults are revisiting marijuana after years away.

    "The kids are grown, they're out of school, you've got time on your hands and frankly it's a time when you can really enjoy marijuana," Stroup said. "Food tastes better, music sounds better, sex is more enjoyable."

    The drug is credited with relieving many problems of aging: aches and pains, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and so on. Patients in 14 states enjoy medical marijuana laws, but those elsewhere buy or grow the drug illegally to ease their conditions.

    Among them is Perry Parks, 67, of Rockingham, N.C., a retired Army pilot who suffered crippling pain from degenerative disc disease and arthritis. He had tried all sorts of drugs, from Vioxx to epidural steroids, but found little success. About two years ago he turned to marijuana, which he first had tried in college, and was amazed how well it worked for the pain.

    "I realized I could get by without the narcotics," Parks said, referring to prescription painkillers. "I am essentially pain free."

    But there's also the risk that health problems already faced by older people can be exacerbated by regular marijuana use.

    Older users could be at risk for falls if they become dizzy, smoking it increases the risk of heart disease and it can cause congnitive impairment, said Dr. William Dale, chief of geriatrics and palliative medicine at the University of Chicago Medical Center.

    He said he'd caution against using it even if a patient cites benefits.

    "There are other better ways to achieve the same effects," he said.

    Pete Delany, director of applied studies at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said boomers' drug use defied stereotypes, but is important to address.

    "When you think about people who are 50 and older you don't generally think of them as using illicit drugs - the occasional Hunter Thompson or the kind of hippie dippie guy that gets a lot of press maybe," he said. "As a nation, it's important to us to say, 'It's not just young people using drugs it's older people using drugs.'"

    In conversations, older marijuana users often say they smoke in less social settings than when they were younger, frequently preferring to enjoy the drug privately. They say the quality (and price) of the drug has increased substantially since their youth and they aren't as paranoid about using it.

    Dennis Day, a 61-year-old attorney in Columbus, Ohio, said when he used to get high, he wore dark glasses to disguise his red eyes, feared talking to people on the street and worried about encountering police. With age, he says, any drawbacks to the drug have disappeared.

    "My eyes no longer turn red, I no longer get the munchies," Day said. "The primary drawbacks to me now are legal."

    Siegel bucks the trend as someone who was well into her 50s before she tried pot for the first time. She can muster only one frustration with the drug.

    "I never learned how to roll a joint," she said. "It's just a big nuisance. It's much easier to fill a pipe."

    February 22, 2010
    Washington Post
  4. bruinsrule
    "I realized I could get by without the narcotics," Parks said, referring to prescription painkillers. "I am essentially pain free." - Suffering patient who convential medicine did nothing for. Who now uses marijuana to relieve his pain.

    "There are other better ways to achieve the same effects,"
    said Dr. William Dale - Are you kidding me??? The patient said nothing but marijuana worked.

    Edited: for clarity

    The heads of such studies only here what the prescription drug companies or government want them to hear . So you have a suffering older patient who says hes tried every alternative dealing with their horrid side affects, telling you that marijuana best relieved his ailments. But sure theres a better way Doc William Dale.... A better way for you to make money off it HAH. Hypocrite isnt it in his oath or something that he shouldnt do that? Or perhaps he is just blind to all of the positive sides of medicinal marijuana.
  5. Haanbcostfu
    So all doctors think the same and are paid off by drug companies to betray their oath? Ridiculous! There is as much variation in what doctors believe as in any other group or profession. Quoting one doctor's opinion and generalizing a motive to the entire profession is just irresponsible. You really shouldn't be surprised though that the medical community is not advocating the use of illegal drugs.

    Very little to nothing of what most doctors do or believe is motivated by money. Anyone who goes into the practice of medicine for the money quickly learns what a joke that is. There are so many easier ways to make money than working 120 hour weeks for 20 years just to break even with student loans.

    Doctors as humans are subject to the influence of the advertising of drug companies of course, but trust me, they are not paid off by anyone to do anything. Please show your evidence for your accusations against an entire profession.

  6. bruinsrule
    Woahh hold the flame train here.

    SWIM mispoke and indeed feels dumb about it. Most doctors are good people who like you said are working hard for you and me, not drug companies.

    What SWIM really meant was that the doctors who are paid to conduct and run such studies are infact paid by the Government and drug companies to come back with negative findings against marijuana. The quotes I put together clearly highlighted that which, was the point I was trying to make in the first place. Sorry if swim got swiy to fly off the handle on the "doctors" remark that was 1 sentance of swim's original post.(be it a dumb one and he'll edit it)
  7. Haanbcostfu
    Not a flame Bruinsrule. Just pointing out that most doctors don't sell their oath to the highest bidder. Your point was understood but to expect the entire medical community to share that view is a bit optimistic. And when they don't, calling them corrupt is a bit extreme. Nothing personal. Just sayin.....

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