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The Heroin Epidemic of the 1960s:

During the 1960s, there were long-standing misconceptions about the potential scope of heroin's appeal were rocked as heroin and other drugs gained popularity among middle-class teens. These teens, many of whom were involved in the anti-Vietnam War movement in America, had grown mistrustful of the establishment and sought to defy its codes of behavior. Author Margaret O. Hyde notes that the reality of heroin abuse forced itself into the American psyche: [Heroin abuse] moved out of the slums and ghettos to infect the sons and daughters of well-to-do citizens of middle-class America. The alarm sounded across the country at that time did not emanate from concern about the long-standing drug abuse problems in racial ghettos, but rather was a result of "dope" reaching white youths in "good" neighborhoods.

Patterns of narcotic use dominant in the well-known drug communities . . . "rippled out" to other communities: Palo Alto, California; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Phoenix, Arizona; Grenell, Ohio; and Bar Harbor, Maine, are just a few. . . . Shocked, distraught, unbelieving parents who discovered that their son or daughter was a heroin addict demanded government and community response to deal with the crisis.

Investigations revealed that young, teen-age white boys and girls, just like the boys and girls in the slums, rob, steal, and prostitute themselves, or "hustle," on the streets to support drug habits of $25, $50, and even $150 a day. Heroin also became an increasing concern of the U.S. military throughout the Vietnam War as American military personnel stationed in Southeast Asia encountered heroin that was inexpensive, pure, and readily available from the nearby "Golden Triangle." Military officials eventually estimated that one out of every five U.S. soldiers had become addicted to the drug during their tour of duty in Vietnam.

By the decade's end, law enforcement and health officials estimated the number of heroin users in the United States to be in excess of 1 million.

In response to this startling statistic, President Richard M. Nixon declared a war on drugs in a statement to Congress, and urged them to pass a $370 million appropriations bill to fight the heroin epidemic. The bill led to the implementation of federal programs to educate the public, expand treatment opportunities, and strengthen drug traffic control.

Additionally, the military's new Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention instituted mandatory drug testing and required returning Vietnam War veterans who tested positive for the drug to undergo treatment.

In 1973 the number of heroin users finally began to subside and would be fewer than four hundred thousand by the decade's end. Hyde attributes this decline in use to "changing public attitude and increased financial support for education, research, and treatment, as well as a more balanced law enforcement approach toward the control of the distribution and supply of heroin."As heroin use diminished during the 1970s, however, cocaine use caught on with the American middle and upper classes, and its widespread popularity would eventually help widespread heroin use to reemerge. Cocaine use became increasingly accepted in society as a sign of social status and affluence during the 1970s, and media coverage of the drug's use among the rich and famous enhanced its glamorous image and legitimized its use in society. "For many Americans," explains Hyde, "cocaine became the symbol of fast-track living which lasted well into the 1980's. . . . In this period of liberalization, only the social consensus against heroin held firm, largely because . . . its use had long been associated with criminals and social outcasts." With its estimated 2.2 million users by the late 1980s, however, cocaine use also escalated to epidemic levels. Connotations of status began to fade as cocaine addiction wrought increasing havoc in the lives of users across the American socioeconomic spectrum—but particularly among crack cocaine users in the inner city. By the early 1990s, cocaine lost its standing as the nation's drug of choice, and the number of users significantly declined.

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