Another interesting article, this time from CBC News (http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/drugs/boomers-reefers.html). Once again, don't think this is telling us anything that we didn't already know, but it is nice to see it in the mainstream media none the less.
Boomers and reefers
Are baby boomers flying under radar of drug abuse?
Last Updated January 9, 2007
Not long before he died in November 2004, Pierre Berton, then 84, invited comedian Rick Mercer to his home where he demonstrated, on camera, how to roll a perfect joint. Before the interview, Berton told Mercer, "Bring the pot." When the interview ended, the iconic Canadian told Mercer, "Leave the pot."
Berton had been using marijuana since the 1960s. He admitted that he had been a "recreational marijuana user" since then.
"I enjoy the odd joint but I never go overboard," he told the Toronto Star. "I smoke about once a month to help me relax."
Kind of cute and funny, we thought, but there was a serious edge to the story. Berton may not have been your prototypical baby boomer, but he did represent a generation not usually associated with illicit drug use. As with the boomers, Berton's generation tended to fly below the radar of surveys purporting to detail illicit drug use.
This came to light this week in an article in the New York Times titled "This is Your Brain on Drugs, Dad." Writer Mike Males, a senior researcher with the U.S. Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, took issue with some studies on the use of illicit drugs such as marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine cocaine, hallucinogens, and ecstasy by both young and old.
Unaware of rising drug use
Males says society tends to be unaware of a troubling rise in the illicit use of drugs because many of today's drug abusers are in the wrong group. He cites David Musto, a psychiatry professor at Yale, who says wars on drugs traditionally have depended on "linkage between a drug and a feared or rejected group within society."
Males says the fastest-growing population of drug abusers is white, middle-aged Americans, which he calls "a powerful mainstream constituency, and unlike with teenagers or urban minorities, it is hard for the government or the news media to present these drug users as a grave threat to the nation."
Blair T. Longley, leader of Canada's Marijuana Party, says Males is on target with his essay.
"Frequent consumers [of cannabis] are men with relatively high education and income," Longley told CBC News Online "However, it is poor young people who are seen to be the consumers. This social fact is typical in the way that it contradicts stereotypical prejudices. The public perception of pot is a standing misrepresentation.
"People with education and income that consume cannabis are the biggest number, but they are rarely the ones that are seen to be cannabis consumers, and very rarely the ones that are arrested for cannabis crimes. Although young poor people consume less cannabis, they are seen to be doing it, and are those who are most frequently arrested for doing it."
While there are similarities in Canada, Canadians tend to be more tolerant of what Americans call "illicit drug use" or "drug abuse," certainly when it comes to cannabis. Statistics Canada reported in 2004 that some three million Canadians aged 15 or older, or 12.2 per cent of the population, admitted using cannabis — marijuana or hashish — at least once in the previous 12 months (considered "current" users).
Michael Tjepkema, author of the StatsCan study, says this represents a "significant increase in self-reported drug use over the past decade." Basing his estimates on data from the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), Tjepkema says that in 1989, 6.5 per cent of Canadians reported using cannabis, and by 1994 this figure had increased to 7.4 per cent.
As for drugs such as cocaine/crack, ecstasy, LSD and other hallucinogens, speed/amphetamines, and heroin, the CCHS data in 2004 says 2.4 per cent of Canadians 15 and older used one of these drugs in the previous 12 months — up from 1.6 per cent in 1994. The most commonly used was cocaine/crack, reportedly used by 321,000 Canadians, or 1.3 per cent of Canadians 15 and older.
As for cannabis use among older Canadians, those between 45 and 54, Tjepkema's 2004 study says six per cent admitted indulging in the previous year, which drops to two per cent among Canadians between 55 and 64.
Drug abuse crisis?
Males says in his New York Times article that a "Monitoring the Future" survey on drug use released in December 2006 shows a sharp drop in drug use by U.S. teens over the past decade. John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, says the decline in teenage drug use promises "enormous beneficial consequences not only for our children now but for the rest of their lives."
Not so, says Males in the New York Times, citing a study by the National Center for Health Statistics that shows teenage deaths from illicit drugs have tripled over the past decade.
"What the Monitoring the Future report does have right is that teenagers remain the least part of America's drug abuse crisis," Males says. "Today, after 20 years, hundreds of billions of dollars, and millions of arrests and imprisonments in the war on drugs, America's rate of drug-related deaths, hospital emergencies, crime and social ills stand at record highs."
Longley says if the largest population of drug users are white, middle-aged Americans flying under the radar because they're not considered a threat to society, "it is but one of the tips of the iceberg of the social situation."
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