According to Diana Thorne, M.D., who treats addictions at the William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, S.C., from 2000 to 2007 the number of veterans she has treated for crack cocaine addiction has dramatically increased, a population she refers to as “the old man’s crack club.” According to Dr. Thorne, “ninety percent of the patients that we see are alcoholics.” She went on to remark that until recently the second drug of choice has been marijuana at 70 to 80% consumption in the population she treats. However, it now seems that crack cocaine is the new second drug of choice with between 70 to 75% reporting use of the drug. Another surprising fact is that 14.5% of her patients did not try crack cocaine until after they were 50 years old. Dr. Thorne’s treatment population is based in a largely rural area of South Carolina and is composed of veterans of Vietnam, Korea, and World War II. The following is an excerpt of an article from Medpage Today that reviews Dr. Thorne’s findings:
The difference between South Carolina and other places where crack is a problem, she said, is that the state remains largely rural, so that her patients are not hanging around the mean streets, but are out in the countryside.
“They pay $20 for a couple of rocks and go off and smoke it under the trees,” she said.
Dr. Thorne said the ritual surrounding the drug — buying it and preparing to smoke it — is also part of the high for her patients.
Surprisingly, 17 of her patients — or 14.5% — tried crack cocaine for the first time after the age of 50, Dr. Thorne said.
An analysis of medical records showed that 44.4% of the 117 crack addicts had pain disorders, 70.9% had vascular disease, and 40.2% had hepatitis C, she reported.
Also, 59.5% had posttraumatic stress disorder, 34.2% had affective disorders, and 15.2% had psychotic disorders.
One of the study’s strengths is that it “sheds light on a group of cocaine users outside the presumed norm,” according to Petros Levounis, M.D., director of the Addiction Institute of New York at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center.
Pastoral Action Point: One of the interesting items about this demographic is that crack cocaine use is seen in a group that would not normally be thought of as utilizing this drug, especially in the case of veterans over the age of fifty. Addictions in seemly traditional populations are not just isolated to veteran over the age of fifty in S.C.. The fact is that more often than one would assume “people” in general engage in problematic activities despite their Sunday best. I for one believe that this is why faith-based support groups surrounding addiction and other hang-ups are currently in droves in churches across the U.S..