Stoned seniors: Germany faces epidemic of hippy pensioners



They include sixty-plus grandmothers spaced out on LSD and 70-year-old grandpas in court for dealing dope: Germany is struggling to cope with a rapid increase in “pensioner hippies” who are still hooked on drugs nearly half a century after the end of the Flower Power era.

The “stoned grandparent” phenomenon has begun to alarm legal and welfare authorities in the country’s most populous state of North Rhine Westphalia, where the number of pensioners annually convicted of drug offences has almost doubled over the past decade to around 117 each year.

The problem has prompted the launch of a scheme to help geriatric specialists familiarise themselves with addiction and old age. “Older people are increasingly turning to illegal drugs,” Gaby Schnell of the regional senior citizen’s association told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine. “This is a new development which has only surfaced over the last few years.”

Most of the cases on record have involved pensioner-aged hippies convicted of drug related offences. In one incident, a narcotics crime squad in Dortmund arrested a 69-year-old drugs dealer nicknamed “Opium grandpa”. Officers tricked the pensioner into selling them 20 grams of the drug in exchange for €250. He was given a two year suspended sentence.

Other cases included a 71-year-old pensioner convicted of selling marijuana to adolescents in a Cologne park and a 73-year old who required medical treatment after consuming too many “hash cookies”. A recent police investigation in Solingen broke up a ring in which an 85-year-old woman was actively engaged in pushing hard drugs. Three kilos of heroin, a quantity of cocaine and two guns were found in her apartment.

The crime figures are taken as evidence of a vast, yet hidden number of older people who are either regular drug users or addicts.Sociologists say Germany’s hippie senior citizens are merely copying their rock star heroes of the hedonistic late Sixties, when drug taking was an essential part of being cool.  Among the examples they point to is of the 77-year-old American singer Willie Nelson who was caught last year carrying 170 grams of marijuana. “A whole generation is appearing on the scene which will have big difficulties with the problems of addiction and old age,” Ms Schnell said.Her predictions are borne out by statistics from Germany’s Central Agency for Addiction which show that the number of people over forty who are undergoing treatment for hard drugs dependency has more than trebled to over 22 percent of the total over the past decade and is continuing to rise.

Peter Raiser, the agency’s project leader says that heroin surrogates such as methadone have helped many addicts who might have died young to escape an early death. However, he adds that most who have spent a lifetime on drugs suffer from severe premature aging. 

The growing problem of drug-addicted “hippie pensioners” has also started to concern experts within Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government. “These sort of people cannot simply be looked after in old people’s homes,” Mechthild Dyckmans, the government’s special advisor on drugs and addiction, admitted in an interview with Der Spiegel yesterday. “We have started a few  communal living pilot projects, but we are just at the beginning .”

She points out that 14 percent of the pensioners currently in care in Germany are either alcohol- or drug-dependent. She plans to make addiction in old age the focus of government health policies “As society becomes ever older, the number of  cases will only increase,” she said.

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