Legacy of the Baby Boomers
Generation names, like “Baby Boomers”, “Baby Busters” and “Millennials” are referential names to describe shared characteristics of people born during certain socio-historical environments; the people from each generation often share activism that shapes the events that will distinguish the following generation. Generations earn their nicknames from the events of their youth, which shape their political, cultural, and religious views. Generations are not determined by birth year alone, but by their formative years, from the onset of puberty to young adulthood. For example, the “Baby Boomers” generations includes the “Boomers”, the large population “boom” of children born following WWII, and grew up during 1946-1954; it also includes the “Hippies”, the generation who were born and grew up during the counterculture period of 1955-1964. The events that shaped the Baby Boomer Generation include the Cold War, the Civil Rights movements, the Vietnam War, and the counterculture of philosophy, music, and the Arts.
Each generation can also be associated with trends in illicit and recreational drug use. For example, talk about the “Hippie” generation, often evokes images of scantily clad men and women, sitting or dancing on open fields of grass, smoking marijuana, tripping on psychedelics, and exchanging philosophical ideas of peace, harmony, and love. For the Baby Boomers affected by the Vietnam war, as either soldiers or protesters, the time may be associated with the heroin boom, resulting from the horrors faced by the soldiers and their subsequent addiction to Asian heroin while overseas. The response to current drug trends during each generation shapes the healthcare trends of each generation. The voices of the Boomers and the Hippies called for change among legislation governing the large population of substance abusers and addicts. Their efforts led to the passage of several bills that together became the “Narcotic Addict Rehabilitation Act of 1966”. The Act and its related amendments reflected a significant change in the perceptions and treatment of narcotic drug addiction.
Narcotic Addiction Prior to the NARA Act of 1966
No generation changes government and legislation independently; during each set of generation years, the generation before it holds the legislative power. Together, the two generations create changes that will influence and shape the next generation. Therefore, the legislation passed in 1966, which technically falls into the “Generation X” years, is a product of and attributed to, the Baby Boomer generation.
The NARA Act was signed into legislation in 1966; it ended criminal incarceration for narcotic addiction. Under the Act, any person, regardless of criminal conviction or incarceration, would have access to long-term medical narcotic treatment. Prior to the NARA Act, there was almost no medically assisted detox and rehabilitation service for those with narcotic drug addiction; there was no disease model of addiction. Addiction was seen as a sociocultural phenomenon resulting from antisocial tendencies; addicts were criminals and were increasingly incarcerated.
The Baby Boomers were one of the first generations of narcotic and heroin addicts; heroin had only been recently discovered in 1937. People who were addicted were deemed criminals and sentenced to incarceration. There was no treatment for the withdrawal and the health dangers related to the withdrawal were not fully realized. Amendments to the NARA Act over the following years ensured that funding would be available for the creation and staffing of treatment facilities in America for alcoholism and drug addiction. We owe our understanding of alcohol and narcotic addiction, and the specialized care and rehabilitative needs of addicts, to the Baby Boomers.