Drug Culture of the 1970s
The counter-culture of the 1960s’ spilled over into the following decade, leaving a lasting impact on the drug scene and pop culture of the 1970s. When I think of the seventies, I think of marijuana, tie-dye, mushrooms, and acid. But, the presence of so-called harder drugs was becoming more prevalent at this time in our culture. Cocaine and heroin began to take hold. For example, at the end of 1969, there were more than 100,000 heroin addicts living in New York City, alone, which experienced 900 deaths due to heroin addiction, overdose, and contamination. And of those 900, 224 were teenagers. In fact, at this time, the leading cause of death amongst people aged 15 to 35 was drug abuse.
Perception of Drug Use in the 1970s
The scare tactics of the 1960s gave way to the contradictory messages of the late ’70s and early ’80s. Drugs became glamorous, without becoming better understood. The ranks of those who had tried illegal drugs grew — in 1973, 12% of respondents to a Gallup poll said they had tried marijuana. That number had doubled by 1977.
As drug use increased, many Americans began to see it as a problem. In 1978, 66% of Americans said marijuana was a serious problem in the high schools or middle school in their area, and 35% said the same of hard drugs.
Towards the end of the 70s, drugs became even more popular. They became glamorous and less understood because most celebrities were doing them. People believed it was cool and weren’t aware of the effects because the good effects were highly advertised against the bad.
David Bowie, a famous musician and fashion icon, was one of these celebrities. He was famous for doing cocaine in the 70s but later on he gave it up and has recently said that he wished he never did them because drugs took over his life.
The War on Drugs in the 70s
1971: “Public Enemy Number One”
With passage of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, the federal government took a more active role in drug enforcement and drug abuse prevention. Nixon, who called drug abuse “public enemy number one” in a 1971 speech, emphasized treatment at first and used his administration’s clout to push for the treatment of drug addicts, particularly heroin addicts.
Nixon also targeted the trendy, psychedelic image of illegal drugs, asking celebrities such as Elvis Presley to help him send the message that drug abuse is unacceptable. Seven years later, Presley himself fell to drug abuse; toxicologists found as many as fourteen legally prescribed drugs, including narcotics, in his system at the time of his death.
1973: Building an Army: DEA Officers
Before the 1970s, drug abuse was seen by policymakers primarily as a social disease that could be addressed with treatment. After the 1970s, drug abuse was seen by policymakers primarily as a law enforcement problem that could be addressed with aggressive criminal justice policies.
The addition of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to the federal law enforcement apparatus in 1973 was a significant step in the direction of a criminal justice approach to drug enforcement. If the federal reforms of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 represented the formal declaration of the War on Drugs, the Drug Enforcement Administration became its foot soldiers.
The atmosphere 0f the 1970s is what gave way to the oft-quoted anti-drug campaign of the 1980s: “Just Say No.”
Several different strategies, mostly from a conservative stance, have been tried and have failed. Drug culture persists and is a force to be reckoned with; it wreaks havoc on communities and local and federal economies.
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