America’s First Amphetamine Epidemic 1929–1971

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A Quantitative and Qualitative Retrospective With Implications for the Present

Nicolas Rasmussen, PhD, MPhil, MPH

Abstract

Using historical research that draws on new primary sources, I review the causes and course of the first, mainly iatrogenic amphetamine epidemic in the United States from the 1940s through the 1960s. Retrospective epidemiology indicates that the absolute prevalence of both nonmedical stimulant use and stimulant dependence or abuse have reached nearly the same levels today as at the epidemic’s peak around 1969. Further parallels between epidemics past and present, including evidence that consumption of prescribed amphetamines has also reached the same absolute levels today as at the original epidemic’s peak, suggest that stricter limits on pharmaceutical stimulants must be considered in any efforts to reduce amphetamine abuse today.

THE UNITED STATES IS experiencing an outbreak of amphetamine abuse. The latest national surveys show that about 3 million Americans used amphetamine-type stimulants nonmedically in the past year, 600000 in the past week, and that 250000 to 350000 are addicted. Although survey data indicate that the number of nonmedical users of amphetamine-type stimulants may have stabilized, the number of heavy users with addiction problems doubled between 2002 and 2004. Thus, the public health problem presented by amphetamines may still be increasing in severity; in many ways it surpasses that of heroin. Although all of this is widely appreciated, the history of an even larger amphetamine epidemic 4 decades ago is less well-known.

ORIGINS OF THE EPIDEMIC, 1929–1945

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https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2377281/

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4 COMMENTS

  1. If you had a tax number in Indiana in 1961 you could by Benzedrine and Dexedrine at a price of $15 per 1,000. In turn those in the know paid ten cents a piece. Widely used by truck drivers, musicians and gamblers as well by the ladies for weight loss and all night energy. Amphetamine abuse reduced life expectancy dramatically. Elvis and Hank William are but two examples.

  2. Amphetamines are very useful and have many legitimate applications, whether they are prescribed or not.

    3 million users, .09% of the population doesn’t sound so bad.

  3. Further parallels between epidemics past and present, including evidence that consumption of prescribed amphetamines has also reached the same absolute levels today as at the original epidemic’s peak, suggest that stricter limits on pharmaceutical stimulants must be considered in any efforts to reduce amphetamine abuse today.
    May I say this kind of thinking is absolute Bull Shit. Restrictions and “wars” are what get us to this point in the first place. They do nothing but increase the abuse and create a criminal class. Hey I got an idea, lets just do the same thing that didn’t work before. One of our science gods called that insanity. I believe some of you label that old guy a zionist. Just for irony?

  4. Well, Senator Proxmires shut down of the “excess production” of benzedrine sulfate pills created the biker/bathtube/farm kid epidemic of poisonous shit.
    Well done!

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