America’s Little Dope Problem: The 1970s – Past Daily Reference Room

White Punks On Dope – art often imitated life in the 70s.

Drug Alert: ’70 – NBC – August 28, 1970 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –

It doesn’t seem that long ago that the biggest problem facing America’s school age population was Marijuana. By the 1970s drugs were becoming an integral part of growing up. It was no longer some secret ritual that you heard about people doing in their 20s, the average age was heading lower with each passing year. Marijuana still carried stiff penalties and heavy jail sentences for those caught using, and worse for those selling. Other drugs, such as Hashish, Heroin and Meth were creeping into the mainstream, with Crystal Meth, along with Cocaine and its offshoot Crack becoming a big presence, particularly in the Midwest.

In the early 70s it was still New York who won the distinction of being the Dope capitol of the western world. Stories of overdoses and murder over drugs became the stuff of legend and just about every Chamber of Commerce throughout America warned residents “don’t be like New York”.

But even in the early 1970s there was talk about de-criminalizing Marijuana in the hopes of making it legal someday. Needless to say, any talk of that was shot down in a barrage of outrage, dragging up old myths and sensationalized headlines.

But not faring a whole lot better were drug prevention programs around this time, especially ones directed at schools with teen and pre-teen populations. Films being run in Health Education classes were outdated, even in the 1950s, which were often met by 1970 with hilarity on the parts of kids who saw through the thread-bare and improbable messages. Well-meaning Drug Enforcement officials were met with perplexed stares as they trotted out warnings and precautions that would have made Detective Joe Friday cringe.

Clearly, America had a little dope problem and those who were fighting against it were caught with their proverbial pants down. Something needed to happen and it needed to happen fast if it wasn’t going to be destined to an addled and babbling future.

But no – by the end of the 70s, Marijuana was becoming turbo-charged with chemically altered strains and increased intensity – Cocaine was a party favor and Crack Cocaine became the new drug of choice for many. By the end of the 70s there really was an increasing casualty count – with overdoses on the rise and brain damage filling Psych wards all over the U.S.

But that was a preview of coming attractions when Fentanyl arrived. By 2022 the trials and tribulations of the 1970s seem almost nostalgic by comparison. Drug treatment programs are available on almost every street corner throughout the country, even though the casualty count is still high. We’ve at least become more aware of what the problem is and less apt to sweep it under the proverbial rug as we were so eager to do in 1970.

Still a long way to go. People will always want to escape – it’s just a matter of what they choose to escape to that’s the challenge. So many extenuating circumstances – it’s not about getting high to be cool or by peer pressure anymore – it’s about getting loaded to leave the Modern World behind.

Here’s a slice of what the fuss was all about, with America’s little dope problem in 1970; and a flurry of programs produced in an attempt to combat the problem. This one, part of a series called Drug Alert produced by NBC News on August 28, 1970.

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