Thursday, January 04, 2007

America's War on Drugs Lost in Middle Ages

Surprise! Surprise! The Baby Boomers, "give peace a chance" crowd, never really stopped using drugs. The war is lost on them:

Among Americans in their 40s and 50s, deaths from illicit-drug overdoses have risen by 800 percent since 1980, including 300 percent in the last decade. In 2004, American hospital emergency rooms treated 400,000 patients between the ages 35 and 64 for abusing heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, hallucinogens and “club drugs” like ecstasy.

Equally surprising, graying baby boomers have become America’s fastest-growing crime scourge. The F.B.I. reports that last year the number of Americans over the age of 40 arrested for violent and property felonies rose to 420,000, up from 170,000 in 1980. Arrests for drug offenses among those over 40 rose to 360,000 last year, up from 22,000 in 1980. The Bureau of Justice Statistics found that 440,000 Americans ages 40 and older were incarcerated in 2005, triple the number in 1990.

This article doesn't include the number of Boomers consuming legal mood elevating drugs. So I did some digging. The Washington Post reports (from 2004):
One in 10 American women takes an antidepressant drug such as Prozac, Paxil or Zoloft, and the use of such drugs by all adults has nearly tripled in the last decade, according to the latest figures on American health released yesterday by the federal government.
The numbers are higher today. And look at what is happening among the elderly (bad news, Boomers, you're entering this group):

Psychoactive drug use is particularly problematic. Data obtained from elderly persons living in the community who were receiving services at a mental health clinic revealed that prescription drug abuse, most often of sedative-hypnotic, antianxiety, and analgesic drugs, accounted for about 5 percent of the average caseload (11). Beers and associates (12) reported that more than half of all residents of intermediate care facilities in Massachusetts were receiving psychoactive drugs, and 30 percent received long-acting drugs not recommended for elderly persons.

Other data from the Veterans Affairs hospital system suggested that inappropriately high doses of benzodiazepines were commonly prescribed for elderly patients (13). A national survey of approximately 3,000 persons living in the community found that 1.6 percent had taken benzodiazepines daily for one year or longer and that older persons were overrepresented among the users; 71 percent of this group were over 50 years old (14). Other estimates of psychoactive drug use in the elderly population range from 23 percent in the National Medical Care Expenditure Survey (15) to 28 percent in an urban Seattle housing project (16).

Baby Boomers are primed to be the most doped up generation ever. What are the causes? Seeking a high is probably the basic cause. But why isn't life a high enough? The common stresses, I'd guess. Some troubles are self-inflicted and some just happen in life:
Summed up: delayed, if ever, maturity coupled with psycho-active substances promising that "groovy" feeling.

Medication and illicit drug use point to a changed philosophy from "I make myself happy" to "Someone or something makes me happy." This shift from personal responsibility to externalization and blame produced people with higher self-esteem and higher expectations with reduced ability to cope with disappointment.

In the past, organized religion, in America that meant some Protestant denomination, provided the answers to life's disappointments. The Boomers changed how America practices religion, too:
The quest culture created by the baby boomers has generated a "marketplace" of new spiritual beliefs and practices and of revisited traditions. As Roof shows, some Americans are exploring faiths and spiritual disciplines for the first time; others are rediscovering their lost traditions; others are drawn to small groups and alternative communities; and still others create their own mix of values and metaphysical beliefs.
God has become "me". Some might recoil at that generalization, but what I mean is that God is defined by the individual himself rather than official doctrine preached by theologians and pastors. God is humanized and looks a lot like the person who defines Him. In generations past, God looked the same and His values were never in dispute societally. The question was how well did the individual meet those expectations? Everyone was a sinner and the sins were agreed upon.

The problem with the redefinition of God, the move away from group worship, and the "spirituality" of the individual is loneliness. Shared beliefs and the fellowship where worship and teaching came together formed a significant social network. It also provided support during times of difficulty and social sanctions against asocial behavior.

Rudderless people search for meaning somewhere. In the absence of meaning, artificial methods of soul-satisfaction enter--drugs, medications, sex, work, food, shopping, money. Any thing can substitute for true God-given meaning. Abraham Maslow writes of this extensively in Toward a Psychology of Being when describing those trying to achieve "peak experiences". He dismisses drug use as an end-around, a short-cut to living an ultimate life. Drug use ends badly. Of course, his solutions are not to look to God but to look further within.

Looking within is exactly the problem with the Boomers because there is nothing there. And that's depressing. We shouldn't expect any sort of drug use to decline any time soon.

P.S. Shrinkwrapped wrote about this months ago. Go read more there.



ShrinkWrapped said...

That whole "better living through chemistry" thing just isn't working out as promised. I have noticed that a higher than random number of patients I see in clinic, supported by entitlements, want medications to make their dysfunctional lives more tolerable. The idea of actually trying to change themselves or their passivity never occurs to them.

Dr. Melissa said...

More power to you. I have a couple good friends who are psychiatrists and I marvel at their mental health (it's good). Since chiropractors can't prescribe meds and philosophically, they are prevention-oriented, our job is often to encourage patients to proactively engage in their health--physical and mental. And to my view, it's the same thing anyway, as emotional states are physiological states.

It is work to re-educate people, but well worth it. Even still, I'd say nearly 50% of our patients take some form of psychotropic medication. We are not doing people any favors by reducing their coping ability through reliance on medication.