Generational forgetting means the media's drug coverage just stays the same.
Coke is back -- according to the New York Times. The Sunday Styles section helpfully pointed users and potential users (and presumably police as well) to online advertisements and tried to give the terminally un-hip some clues about current cocaine references in pop culture.
Drug experts call the variance in the risk perception associated with drugs "generational forgetting" -- noting that young people not previously exposed to the negative effects of a particular drug in their generation tend to assume that it is harmless, while avoiding the current "scare" drug. So, while the crack epidemic of the 80s left those who saw it with a perception of that drug as skanky and dangerous, today's kids associate that image with methamphetamine instead.
This is the problem with having a demon drug of the moment: all of them can't possibly be "the worst" and "most addictive" and "most dangerous," but if you look at the news coverage of each new scare, that's exactly what the coverage claims. When crack came out, it was "more addictive than heroin," (the previous worst drug ever), now meth allegedly makes crack look like "child's play."
Different drugs certainly do carry different risks -- but that's not what the media or the government wants to explore. To do that would mean admitting that some really are more harmful than others and that the relative harm has little to do with drugs' legal status. For the media, it would mean that these drug trend stories have far less news value -- because the truth is that some drug is always in and it's not always worse than the one that went before it.
Exploring the varying risks of addiction related to these drugs would also mean having to actually understand addiction and why some people are at greater risk than others and what "more addictive" really means. It would mean recognizing that addiction is not an equal opportunity problem -- that levels of it are much higher amongst the poor and unemployed than amongst the middle classes (and probably also higher amongst the extremely rich).
And it would also mean trying to understand whether the people who fall prey to one type of drug are only at risk for that sort of addiction -- or whether the trends really don't matter much and sweep up the at-risk people no matter what drug is in fashion.
That wouldn't make such a good Styles section story -- but it might actually help us better deal with drug problems rather than repeating these cycles.
Just a side note: that diet drug that may increase suicide risk... how does it affect the brain? By blocking the marijuana receptors...if the munchies are a side effect of a drug that makes people feel good, it's hardly surprising that feeling worse would be a side effect of a drug that blocks those receptors. Still no free lunch, folks!
[Note: Cross-posted at stats.org]