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  Chapter Eight:

  Health of Children
  Health of Adults
  STDs and AIDS
  Illegal Drugs
  Accidental Deaths
  Hospital Patients
  Health Care Costs
  Mental Patients
  Disabled Persons



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Illegal Drugs

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The popularity of psychotropic substances fluctuated.
Although marijuana was never unknown in the United States, it was not widely popular until the 1960s, when it became symbolic of the counterculture. As the chart shows, the number of first-time marijuana users grew dramatically in the 1960s and early 1970s, then declined to a somewhat lower level until the early 1990s, when it turned sharply upward again. 

After a flurry of popularity at the turn of the century, cocaine all but disappeared from the American drug scene until the late 1960s, when it reappeared in the form of a white powder to be inhaled. A smokable form of cocaine known as crack began to spread through the country in the 1980s. The growth of a mass market for cocaine is suggested by the rise in federal seizures of the drug—from 45 pounds in 1967 to 263,998 pounds in 1998. 

Although precise figures are lacking, estimates indicate that there were relatively more opiate addicts in the United States in 1900 than there were at the end of the century. Most were older white women habituated to “tonics” that contained generous amounts of laudanum (tincture of opium). The self-administration of opiates was entirely legal at the time, and many doctors and nurses were addicted to morphine. 

Heroin, a derivative of the opium poppy, is most often injected but can be inhaled or smoked. Heroin use remained localized in big cities, especially New York, until the 1960s, when the heroin habit spread to other parts of the country. The number of new users reached a peak in 1972 and then remained fairly stable until the early 1990s, when the number of first-time users rose to its highest recorded level, before beginning a descent in 1997. 

The chart also shows the number of first-time users of two classes of illegal drugs: hallucinogens such as LSD, PCP, mescaline, psilocybin, and MDMA; and inhalants, such as amyl nitrite, toluene, ether, nitrous oxide, and various spray-can products. By 1997, new users of hallucinogens outnumbered new users of cocaine and heroin combined; the number of new users of inhalants came close. 

The number of new users is an excellent measure of the spread and decline of various illegal drugs. Statistics on the number of people who currently use or have ever used a particular drug are also useful. For most illegal drugs, people who have ever tried the drug outnumbered current users by about ten to one. In 1997, there were 5 million current users of marijuana—by far the most commonly used illegal drug—but 33 million people had used marijuana at some point in their lives. For less common drugs, the ratio of current users to ever-users was higher. In 1997, 700,000 people reported current usage of cocaine, but 10.5 million people reported having used it at some other time in their lives.

Chapter 8 chart 7

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, tables 41–45, at (accessed April 18, 2000). For cocaine seizures in 1998, see SA 1999, table 361.


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