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History of Drug Abuse: The 90's

A decade of “mom and pop” meth labs, being heroin chic, up all night at the rave and totally stoned.

Federal funding for the war on drugs reached $17.1 billion dollars. At this period of time, 34% of Americans admitted to having tried marijuana.

In the 1990s there was decline in most drug abuse but not all. In the 1990s there was a rise in pot smoking, the rise of the rave culture, and also “mom and pop” labs of methamphetamine. Heroin use in the 1990s also increased, as well as the number of overdoses. In fact, you can see see the residual effects of the drug trends in the fashion industry.

Here is a fun fact, heroin became so popular that the reason most models look the way they do today is because of it. The 1990s came up with the trend “heroin chic”. Heroin chic was a look popularized in mid-1990s fashion and was characterized by pale skin, dark circles underneath the eyes and angular bone structure. The look gave way to emaciated models such as Kate Moss. A 1996 article in the Los Angeles Times stated that the fashion industry had “a nihilistic vision of beauty” that was reflective of drug addiction and U.S. News and World Report called the movement a “cynical trend”.

The 1990s saw an increase in pot use, ecstasy use, and crystal meth. “Ecstasy and crystal meth are popular in California, meth is big in the Midwest, and the New Jersey Turnpike is just ‘the Heroin Highway’,” -Unknown

Marijuana use in the 1990s: Marijuana use among American youths and young adults increased substantially during the 1990s. Much of the increase in marijuana use could have been attributable to the growing popularity of blunts. If you ever wonder if there really was an increase in marijuana use just listen to the music. Much of the music and culture of the 90s was surrounded by the idea of getting “stoned”. Think, Cypress Hill.

Heroin use in the 1990s: During what seemed like an epidemic of urban heroin use in the 1970’s, the images of the typical addict — strung out, nodding off on street corners, track marks along every vein — were so strong that they turned off an entire generation of potential users. Those images did not resonate so strongly in places where addicts were seen only on television. So when heroin became purer and cheaper as well as able to be smoked or snorted, in the 1990’s, it took root in predominantly white, working- and middle-class communities. Heroin in the 1990s was one of the most deadly of the illegal drugs leading to overdoses of many famous people such as Sublime’s front man Bradley Nowell who died in 1996 and The Smashing Pumpkins band mate Jonathan Melvoin also in 1996. Heroin was glamorized within the music industry as well as the fashion industry.

Meth use in the 1990s: PDFA studies found that use by high school students more than doubled between 1990 and 1996. New ways to cook methamphetamine appeared in 1990s. Some new versions were four to six times stronger and more addictive. Greatest use was seen in the Southwest and West. Methamphetamine use began and grew in the rural Midwest. Rural locations became ideal for cooking of methamphetamine because of geographic isolation, available supply of ephedrine, pseudoephedrine and anhydrous ammonia. In 1996, congress passed the Comprehensive Methamphetamine Control Act, which regulated mail order and chemical companies selling chemicals. For example, people who bought large quantities of red phosphorous, iodine and hydrochloric gas would have to show they would use them for legitimate purposes. Law enforcement agents became allowed to track large mail order purchases of pseudoephedrine, another precursor chemical. Chemical supply companies would now be punished if they sold chemicals to people who make methamphetamine.

Ecstasy use in the 1990s: MDMA use rose sharply among college students and young adults during the 1990s, according to the 1995 Monitoring the Future study.  Beginning in 1987 on the Spanish island of Ibiza, British vacationers had all-night parties with loud, beat-driven dance music in crowded conditions. Raves spread first to the United Kingdom and then to the United States. By the mid-1990s they were all over the place, especially in big cities. The use of “club drugs” to enhance the enjoyment of the party experience was already established in America, where certain “discos” had already been catering to cocaine and amphetamine users. Ecstasy fit into the rave scene better than cocaine, however. High on ecstasy, shy or cautious people became wild dancers, open and friendly to strangers, and they were able to stay awake all night. By the time raves became established in the United States, ecstasy had already been added to the Schedule I list of controlled substances by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Emergency room visits sparked by bad reactions to ecstasy spiked from 253 in 1994 to 5,542 in 2001, according to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) report.

These were a few of the biggest drug abuse trends of the 90s. Did you experience any of this? How old were you in the 1990s? Did you fall into any of these trends? Can you point out any other things about the 1990s that really led to the increase in drug abuse?

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