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Booming Addiction: Baby Boomers Using Drugs In Record Numbers

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- You may not think about them as the type to get hooked on drugs, but as they age, baby boomers are using drugs in record numbers.

Some 5 percent of the 78 million boomers admit to abusing drugs – and experts are calling it a booming addiction.

"When I was growing up, everybody was getting high," said 54-year-old "Jeff," who asked us not to use his last name.

Like many baby boomers, he spent years in a drug-induced fog, first smoking marijuana when he was just 15 years old.

"I liked it," Jeff said. "I became a true pot head."

Despite his middle class upbringing, Jeff moved on to pills, cocaine, and worse.

"You could find heroin anywhere, just the same way you could find pills everywhere," he said.

That was then, however. Now, Jeff is clean.

"I don't want to lose myself anymore," he said. "I like who I am now."

Experts say Jeff is not alone. A recent government report showed that record numbers of baby boomers are in treatment for drug abuse.

The number of people over 50 treated for heroin abuse has more than doubled since 1992, those treated for cocaine addiction quadrupled, and even more shocking, five times as many boomers were in treatment for prescription drug abuse.

A lot of boomers grew up doing drugs, and experts said many never stopped – or are turning to them again to help cope with the normal stresses of aging.

"I think it's possible that they're lonely, and they're sad, and they're kind of isolated," Dr. Deni Carise, of Phoenix House, said. "That's a way for them to feel good for a while, and that worked for them in the past as well, and so maybe it will work now."

Aging brings with it aches and pains, which can also bring the potential for prescription drug abuse.

"I never thought this was going to happen to me – I never gave it a second thought," said "Sharon," who also asked that her last name not be used.

Three years ago, Sharon got hooked on Oxycodone prescribed for a back injury.

"It was severe, it was intolerable," she said.

Sharon is clean these days, but her addiction was swift and intense.

"It rules your life, because the only thing that you think of is the pill, is that high," she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, unlike other generations, boomers are facing a vast array of health problems, including high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and arthritis.

Baby boomers are facing arthritis both because of high rates of obesity and because many are staying more active than their parents' generation.

"We do see people that need joint replacement surgery at a much earlier time point than we did in the past, there is no question," said Dr. Fritz Boettner of the Hospital for Special Surgery.

The good news, though, is that baby boomers do tend to stay active and live life to the fullest, with the freedom to finally do what they want.

"I've actually nothing on my mind, nothing going on up there," one baby boomer said. "I'm having a really good time, and I'm enjoying myself."

"I think it's a good time, I think it's a freeing time," said another.

"I plan on having lots of fun, I plan on travelling," another baby boomer said. "The children are grown, so I'm thrilled – I don't even like babysitting."

Baby boomers also have more discretionary income than any other age group – they control 70 percent of the total net worth in American households.

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