The most significant social problem of the 1980s was the rise of the AIDs epidemic. (This topic is discussed in detail in the original section of the Songbook.) Homelessness and drugs came in a close second to AIDs as social problems in the 1980s. (“War on Drugs”, https://www.history.com/topics/1980s/just-say-no )
Following the acid trips of the 1960s and the marijuana escapism of the 1970s, Americans had developed new and worrisome tastes in recreational drugs. In the 1980s, cocaine became a party favorite with an estimated 10.4 million users snorting the stimulant in 1982 alone. “Crack” cocaine, a variation made with baking soda and water so that it could be sold as a solid rock to smoke, was a cheaper alternative that came into prominence in the middle part of the decade. In 1989, The New York Times reported that “crack had more than tripled the number of cocaine users in the city since 1986″ and contributed to a significant increase in the local homicide rate. Crack was turning America’s cities into hells, mostly in the ghettos.
As early as 1981, reports of crack were appearing in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, Miami, Houston, and in the Caribbean. Crack cocaine causes weight loss, high blood pressure, hallucinations, seizures, and paranoia. Emergency room visits due to cocaine incidents such as overdoses, unexpected reactions, suicide attempts, chronic effects, and detoxification increased fourfold between 1984 and 1987. The biggest surge in the use of the drug occurred during the “crack epidemic,” between 1984 and 1990, when the drug spread across American cities. The crack epidemic dramatically increased the number of Americans addicted to cocaine. In 1985, the number of people who admitted using cocaine on a routine basis increased from 4.2 million to 5.8 million. By the end of 1986, crack was available in twenty-eight states and the District of Columbia. By 1987, crack was reported to be available in all but four states in the United States.
A number of ominous trends attributed to the crack epidemic emerged in the black community in the mid-1980s. Between 1984 and 1994, the homicide rate for black males aged 14 to 17 more than doubled, and the homicide rate for black males aged 18 to 24 increased nearly as much. The collateral damage was extensive. Junkies stole to feed their habit, often preying on the elderly. Dealers shot at each other to protect their turf, with stray bullets taking down innocent bystanders. In 1990, at the height of the crack epidemic, murders in New York City hit a record 2,245. During this period, the black community also experienced an increase in fetal death rates, low birth-weight babies, weapons arrests, and the number of children in foster care.