Have You Talked to Your Parents About Drugs? The Startling Rise of Baby Boomer Drug Abuse

According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, drug abuse rates are rising rapidly among Baby Boomers. The Baby Boomer generation of Americans who were born in the years following World War II extends from 1946 to 1964 and includes people who are currently between the ages of 63 and 49. Overall, the Baby Boomers comprise a large segment of the United States population, given that more than 75 million people were born during that period. The fact that they are increasingly using drugs provides reason to be worried about the impact this could have on the future of the country. The most alarming piece of information in the WLRN report was that the 55-59 age group is the one which is experiencing the most significant rise in drug abuse rates. The reasons for this, however, are not necessarily what you might assume.

Given that the Baby Boomers were the generation which was in its teens and twenties during the 1960s and 1970s, when drug use exploded among the American youth, it would be natural to expect that this is the major reason why boomers are now using drugs more. Indeed, many do smoke pot as an old habit which persists from the days when they were young. Other street drugs are common, as evidenced by the fact that the number of emergency room admissions for cocaine abuse among South Florida baby boomers has been steadily increasing, whereas it has been on the decline for the general population since 2006. Street drugs are not, however, the primary reason which is driving the rates of boomer drug abuse.

The number of baby boomers who are receiving treatment for addiction to prescription drugs has exploded since 2001, when 15 percent of those in treatment were members of the boomer generation as compared with 30 percent now. Following alcohol, prescription drugs are the most common reason why boomers end up in rehab, with sleeping pills and opiate painkillers being the two most prevalent drugs of addiction.

What is driving the increase in baby boomer drug addiction?

Given that prescription drugs are actually the leading drugs of addiction among baby boomers, it is evident that the rising tide of addiction among that generation of Americans is not necessarily a result of their drug use during youth. More commonly, what is happening is that one of these people goes into see his or her doctor with a complaint such as insomnia, back pain or anxiety, and is walking out with a prescription for Ambien, Vicodin or Oxycontin, or Klonopin. These and similar drugs are highly addictive and susceptible to abuse, and patients are at great risk of developing a dependence. A doctor from a local addiction treatment center is quoted in the PBS story as saying that most physicians receive very little training on the subject of substance abuse and addiction, and that they very often use prescriptions as an easy solution for resolving a patient’s symptoms, even if it is not actually a treatment.

Compounding the problem is the aggressive marketing engaged in by drug companies — most of which rake in annual revenues in the tens of billions of dollars — and the way that the pharmaceutical industry lavishes doctors with gifts such as free trips to “medical conferences” in Hawaii and other exotic locales as a way to compel them into helping to sell the drugs. The doctors stand to make more money by writing quick prescriptions so that they can spend less time with each patient; the drug companies stand to make massive profits; and the patients very often wind up addicted.