boomers face meth addiction
By Ryan Lenz
Associated Press March
BLOOMFIELD – Mike Walls
never envisioned his golden years as a fight with drug
addiction when a friend gave him a plastic bag of white
crystal powder and a promise of youth nearly two decades
A cross-country truck
driver, he was almost 40 and feeling fatigued when he
sniffed methamphetamine from a dusted toothpick at a
truck stop, hoping he could drive all night.
“It seemed like I didn’t
want to face the fact that I was getting older,” Walls
said, running his fingertips through a strawberry red
goatee streaked with silver.
At 55, with rotten teeth,
frayed nerves and high blood pressure – all brought on
by meth – Walls is one of a growing number of baby
boomers struggling with addiction to the stimulant and
seeking help after living with it through middle age.
Nationwide, the number of
people age 55 and older seeking treatment for meth has
increased 15-fold since 1992, according to federal
statistics. The spike has left drug counselors, already
reeling from treating a rush of younger addicts,
grasping for guidance.
president of the Pennsylvania-based National Association
of Addiction Treatment Providers, said older meth
addicts remain an uncharted group.
“Because of the way that
we tend to pigeonhole or stereotype older adults, we
don’t think that they will have access to
methamphetamines,” said Hunsicker, whose group plans to
discuss older addicts at its annual conference in
Florida in May. “The contrary seems to be true.”
Meth addiction has jumped
cultural gaps before, moving from rural settings to
urban backdrops. While meth has been used most by people
between 18 and 25, according to federal surveys, its
abuse among older populations is rising.
The Substance Abuse and
Mental Health Services Administration in Washington,
D.C., which tracks national drug trends, found the
number of people older than 55 seeking treatment for
meth addiction rose from 44 in 1992 to 693 in 2003, the
most recent year for which statistics are available.
Leah Young, spokeswoman
for the agency, said that is only a fraction of the
total seeking treatment for meth addiction nationwide –
about 136,000 people in 2003, according to federal
“The number is so small
at this point that I don’t think anyone can do any
analysis on them,” Young said.
Counselors insist even
slight increases among older populations can be
Meth can cause rotten
teeth, rapid weight loss and hallucinations among users
of any age.
But the effects of
addiction can be worse with age, causing high blood
pressure, hypertension and a risk of heart attack.
Prolonged use can lead to
kidney disorders, liver or brain damage, depression and
malnutrition, said Dr. Barbara Krantz, who helps run the
Hanley Center, which offers drug treatment in West Palm
“Chemical dependency is a
brain disease. It doesn’t matter how old you are,”
The cost of treating
people for meth addiction also can increase with age.
Because of years of addiction – and deep-seated habits –
people older than 55 chance being in treatment longer.
At the Greene County
Rehabilitation Center in Bloomfield, the first stage of
treatment costs $600 a month, which pays for room and
board and lasts until a person is healthy enough to
leave. It does not include medical bills. The second
phase, which Walls is in, runs $155 a week. Recovering
addicts leave during the day to work but return each
night for more counseling.
A final phase, designed
to help recovered addicts remain clean, is free.
Gus Mathias, who manages
the Greene County center and one other in Indiana, has
seen meth ravage young addicts. What he has seen among
older clients is worse.
“Methamphetamine is hard
on young people. You lose a lot of weight. Your teeth
fall out. You hallucinate. But when you start to get
older, it happens much faster,” he said. “I’ve got any
number of people that come in looking tragic.”
Walls is a perfect
example, Mathias said.
After being caught making
meth in a farm field seven months ago, Walls arrived for
court-ordered treatment 30 pounds underweight and
Well into his treatment,
the father of three now works at his own auto shop
before heading home to the rehabilitation center in
His blood pressure has
fallen and his once-sunken cheeks have filled out. He
attends regular counseling sessions at the center to
learn about the triggers of addiction.
He waits, hoping the
craving subsides a little more each day.
Younger meth addicts turn
to him for help when they arrive. He’s a grandfather
figure they pepper with questions, asking how he finally
got clean. Walls wishes he could give them answers, but
he can’t. Not yet. There’s so much farther to go.
Older meth addicts
The problem: The number of
people 55 and older seeking treatment of
methamphetamine addiction has increased 15-fold since
Meth use among older people can cause health
complications, such as kidney and brain damage, that
doctors say are difficult to reverse after a person
The National Association of Addiction Treatment
Providers plans to give counselors guidance on
treating aging meth addicts at its annual conference
this May in