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Boomer Bytes #31: Drug Use

Editor’s Note: Below is another column in Steve Canipe’s series called Boomer Bytes. The column, as the title suggests, will focus on a variety of topics that may be of interest to baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964. But Canipe also hopes to start a conversation with younger generations, too. Check out an introduction and Canipe’s (first self-titled) column here.

Drug Use

By Steve Canipe

Aug. 15, 2014. No this column is not about the use of illegal drugs. Although some of us probably did use a wide number of these illegal drugs in our youth, including the continuing most popular abused drug by kids – alcohol.  It is about the legal drugs that Boomers have consumed in large amounts and continue to consume.



From the NIH website the following tidbit…in those over age 65 the use of illegal drugs like marijuana and meth are not common. Among those 50 and older the increase has been detected. The website notes that “… the number of current illicit drug users aged 50-59 more than tripled between 2002 and 2012, from 900,000 to more than 3.0 million” Following this trend or perhaps because of it the number of older adults being admitted to hospitals and emergency rooms has gone up more than 130% in the 2004-2009 timeframe for those aged 55-64 (currently 60-69 year olds).


It could logically be argued that because there are so many of us that this increase is simply due to our numbers.  Remember that for the last three years, there are about 1,000 of us per day turning 65!! And this increase of older Americans will continue for another 15 years. It may also be due to the fact that more of us were willing to experiment with illegal drugs, especially marijuana. President Bill Clinton’s famous admission that he smoked but did not inhale was a turning point for many Boomers who had tried the cannabis plant!


However Clinton, who might have been the first, is by no means the only influential person who admitted to smoking “weed” during their lives.  The Huffington Post on its website lists the 50 most influential users.  Some of the ones easily recognized are President George W. Bush, President Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Secretary of State John Kerry, Bill Gates, Senator Rand Paul, Sarah Palin, and Rush Limbaugh. As can be seen the users span the political spectrum from right to left.


Two states allow recreational use of marijuana (Colorado and Washington) and 23 allow it for medical purposes.  Several other states are considering recreational use.  Currently 14 states have enacted some decriminalization statutes for marijuana use. But under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, it is not really legal.  The Federal government has elected not to pursue its drug laws in those states which do not treat marijuana as a Class I drug. A class I drug is defined as one having a high potential for abuse and with no acceptable medical use.  On 28 August 2013 the US government announced it would not pursue illegal marijuana use in those states which had laws allowing its use.  Crimes concerning marijuana and involving firearms and similar would still be pursued.


But prescription abuse may be more of a concern in the future than drugs like marijuana or alcohol. The Administration on Aging (AOA) publications all note the issues with prescription abuse, both intentional and unintentional. The numbers of boomers and older Americans visiting emergency rooms and treatment centers show increasing rates. From 2004-2008 there was a 121% increase in emergency department visits caused by prescription abuse.  For the future, the AOA projection is bleaker – by 2020 a 100% increase is predicted in the abuse of prescription drugs.


Many of the drugs are being used based on a combination of factors including increased pain, sleep disorders/insomnia, and anxiety.  These are more commonly found among Boomers as we fall prey both to the vagaries of aging but also the advertising of a drug to make us not hurt, sleep better, feel better, etc.


Because of all the advertisements on television and in every magazine one picks up we are bombarded with those pills to help us in every way imaginable. One of the types of drugs that are more likely to be prescribed are those that are psychoactive medications.  These have a high potential for both misuse and abuse. Based on information on the AOA website “…approximately 25 percent of older adults use prescription psychoactive medications…. that have a potential to be misused and abused.”  In addition we Boomers are more likely to use them for a longer time creating an even greater risk of misuse and abuse. Furthermore because of alcohol use the effects are enhanced for these drugs. This alcohol/psychoactive drug combination has been estimated by the AOA …”to affect up to 19 % of older Americans.”


We Boomers have been doing our own thing for so many years that it may be hard for us to ask for help from our children or even our doctors.  While it is easy to say that we should know better, and we probably do know better, feeling in control of our bodies and our control of pain is our responsibility.  Perhaps the Biblical injunction of becoming “our brothers [and sisters] keepers” could be put to good use.  Who better than one of us Boomers to help a fellow Boomer with the problem?  We have lived and experienced the same things.  Maybe our advice to a person, who is basically our age, would be more readily received than that from a child for whom we changed dirty and wet diapers!


Many times, if you are like me, you have helped a friend who was in trouble – too much to drink, using legal or illegal drugs, listening about marital issues.  I believe this needs to be our goal…to be listeners and helpers not to be judgmental of those Boomers who are misusing drugs – legal or illegal.  Perhaps this was best said by Patricia A. Chambers when she opined that “All we have in this world is each other. Life is meant to be shared.”  Can we do it for each other?


Let me hear from you concerning your knowledge or experience with boomer drug abuse (particularly prescription abuse). This invitation is about helping not pointing fingers. Some of you may not want to use your regular email address, which is fine.  There are a number of services that allow you to email anonymously.  You can do a web search for anonymous emails or use the one I use at http://send-email.org/ Send your thoughts, either via email at boomerbytes@yahoo.com or post them at the end of the column. I’ll look forward to hearing from you.