Five Decades of Drug Use

A bit more than fifty five years ago this coming month, some one hundred twelve drug abusers were taken from New York City jail cells and moved to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital to be examined and classified in descriptions ranging from social to motivational, psychiatric and pharmacologic. America was about to start learning about types of Americans who, because of drugs or personality differences, did not fit the normal American norm – love of country, patriotic, hard-working, family oriented, nose to the grindstone. These kids were different! Heroin users were a growing category, it was established. Known generally as hopheads, or worse, their members were generally psychopathic and, as a quickly-growing sub-group, were by themselves costing the city some $10 million a day in crimes they committed to support their drug habit. In time, it was found that younger emotionally disturbed groups tended to use marihuana and amphetamines and hallucinogenic drugs. Half of that group was diagnosed as schizophrenic prior to taking drugs and more than a third of them required state hospitalization.

All of them, the doctors concluded, were looking to illegal drugs for an easy way of attaining a sense of euphoria, sometimes as part of a search for a better world, and sometimes as a means to combat depression. The city was probably one of the last places that euphoria was likely to be found outside of drug use. Most users wound up in jail, where the large majority of them learned what bad really was like, a circumstance that did little to relieve their collection depression when denied freedom and access to narcotics.

These studies provide a means to examine underlying emotional problems that can lead to criminal behavior by possession of illicit drugs, or use of them that often leads to arrest. But, once you get into that cycle, you are doomed if you use illegal drugs, at least to capture and jail. But, you also lose if you are not caught, which seems to happen more than not. But, not being caught is almost as bad, because eventually, he or she is so addicted, it is impossible to stop.

It would be interesting if researchers were able to categorize what if early drug offenders had been caught early on, at a time when the penalty would have scared them away from further use. Would America be a different place today? Interesting, but impossible to categorize.

Science, it appears, cannot categorize “what ifs” because research only can record what did happen. There is no way to track what does not happen in our simple world today.

But, to the people involved in these issues, the questions are important, and since all of us share room in this grouping we call a society, it seems self-evident that we all need to be involved in these issues. This is what a society is supposed to do, look at and resolve the problems of others within that society, and reach a reasonable answer that is in the best interests of all. We have to do that because if we as a group are forced to let a problem fester, as it did beginning with the Beat generation, it will grow and multiply, and become a larger problem.

Our society’s problems with drop-outs and drug use continue to this day, in part because the nation has never come to consensus regarding the question of hard drug usage. What cannot be answered satisfactorily does not go away, but tends to fester and grow, splitting apart as new generations come along and what seem new goodies are out there for experimentation.

The trouble society has in dealing with this is that no one had the answers in the 1950s or in any of the decades that followed. Today, we are at the beginning of 2013 and nothing that was used in the early decades has been successfully banned, outlawed or disappeared because society spoke badly of it. As the rest of us age and get more set in our ways, making drugs illegal does not stop drug use. It makes it romantic as hell for young users too.I am now too old and far too straight to know what turns young kids on today. In the old days when I was a working reporter, I would have asked cops. But, I am now of the conclusion that cops know less about what is going on with drugs than do parents. Think about the consequences of that if you want to scare yourself to death for the safety of your kids.

Most of the young people will experiment a little, if only for shock value, and then will turn to legal adult mind benders when they can walk into a bar and be served. Some of them will kill themselves trying to drive faster than a speeding bullet, and fail. Others will just stay high longer and longer until they never come back at all. Because these things are addictive, society needs to keep them away from the young so they won’t get addicted before they get old enough to learn how grownups handle dangerous drugs, if they do at all.

So, what we need, it seems, is a way to formulate a new approach to dealing with the young before they sucked into the long road to nowhere where you go on and on and on, and never come back. But, every parent knows damned well that his kids, of both sexes, will experiment with what someone they know and trust is willing to share with them. How we protect them from all that is out there, I don’t know.

Peer pressure is intense and if one does it, others feel obligated to consider the drug too. I worry about my grandchildren as so many others worry about theirs. The threat to them is real, and it is everywhere, and it isn’t something they will call Mom on the cell phone to ask permission to try. God, I hope they have the guts to say no, and walk away.