Baby Boomers Still Using Illegal Drugs

Some of the Woodstock generation never stopped lighting up

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Some baby boomers are continuing to use illicit drugs as they grow older. The number of 50-somethings who say they took drugs within the past year has nearly doubled from 5.1 percent in 2002 to 9.4 percent in 2007, according to a new analysis by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Among all other age groups the rates of drug use stayed the same or decreased. Over the same time period marijuana use among Americans age 50 to 59 increased from 3.1 to 5.7 percent and nonmedical utilization of prescription drugs climbed to 4 percent in 2007 from 2.2 percent in 2002.

“These findings show that many in the Woodstock generation continue to use illicit drugs as they age,” says SAMHSA acting administrator Eric Broderick. SAMHSA found that the increase in drug use was driven primarily by the aging of the baby boomers, who have had higher rates of drug use than earlier generations throughout their lifetime. Approximately 90 percent of the baby boomer drug users initiated their drug use before age 30. Less than 3 percent of baby boomers who used drugs in the past year began using between the ages of 50 and 59.

SAMHS cautions that drugs can have more severe affects on the body as you age. Older adults have a slower metabolism and lower body water content, which means the drug can remain in their system longer. Baby boomers can generally feel the effects of a drug with less use and cannot use as much as they used to. Prescription and over-the-counter medications commonly used by older adults could also interact adversely with illegal drugs.

While the majority of baby boomers who have ever sampled drugs aren’t still regular users, some continue to light up as they approach retirement. About 14 percent of Americans age 50 to 59 who have ever tried drugs, took them in the past year.