Remarks at the National Conference on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention in Arlington, Virginia


August 6, 1986


Thank you all very much. Why do I have a feeling that I'm preaching to the choir? [Laughter] Before I get into the subject that brought me here, maybe you'd be interested in a news note. I've been rather uptight all day, because up in the House of Representatives there has been a morning devoted to overriding my veto of a trade bill that I thought would be very destructive to our prosperity and to the things that we're trying to accomplish with regard to getting free and fair trade throughout the world. We had to get 142 votes of those present in order to prevent them from overriding my veto. I was just handed a slip of paper here a moment ago -- we got 149. So, your present speaker comes before you as a very happy fellow. [Laughter]


I appreciate this opportunity to express my thanks for all that you're doing to meet one of the most serious challenges our country faces. The use of illegal drugs and abuse of alcohol can no longer be shrugged off as somebody else's business. Today it's everybody's business -- every man, woman, and child who loves his country, community, and family. It's time to stand up and be counted, and this you are doing. So, it's a pleasure to be here with individuals who are doing just that. The usual format for speeches such as this is opening with a bit of humor to get things moving. Today, if you will excuse me, I think the gravity of the problem we're discussing precludes humor. Drug and alcohol abuse are taking the lives of people we love. What can be more important than putting a stop to that?


On the casualty list you'll find the poor, the middle class, the rich and famous; hundreds, even thousands, per year -- dead. Who has not felt the heartache of hearing the news of a friend or family member, someone who had so much to live for but is now gone forever? Who has not felt the frustration of watching helplessly as loved ones or dear friends slide to personal ruin? Len Bias and Don Rogers, gifted athletes who had so much more to achieve, are only two of the most recent fatalities. One doesn't have to be a conservative to appreciate that the vitality and resilience of America flows from the strength of the American family. How many wives and husbands weep at night knowing their spouse is drifting toward disaster?


Today we must all be as one family in tackling this problem. The young fellow down the street using marijuana must no longer be a problem just for his own mother and father. The fellow at the next desk at work who gets stoned and at times is groggy on the job must no longer be just the boss's headache. The young coed, popping pills or snorting coke, must no longer be excused for just doing her thing. If we care, we'll be firm with these members of the American family. And if we care, we must act. And that doesn't mean, as you've been told, put them in jail -- that means help free them from drugs.


A few days ago I called on all Americans not simply to support a government antidrug effort but to be an active part of a crusade against drugs. Nancy recently said -- and it isn't every day a fella gets to quote his own wife -- [laughter] -- ``We must create an atmosphere of intolerance for drug use in this country.'' Well, that's the way to tangible progress. Intolerance doesn't mean punishing users. We are, as you've been told, against the use, not the user. We're talking about the pressure the rest of us who care can put on the user to mend his or her ways, get straight, and live right.


Having quoted Nancy, I just want to say how proud I am that she has been an outspoken crusader on this serious national problem. We couldn't be more pleased that others, at long last, are joining the fight. When it comes to curing this plague that ravages our land and infects our loved ones, there are no Democrats or Republicans, just Americans. Nancy, over these last 5 years, has shown how much one individual with commitment can accomplish. She was out in Oakland speaking to some young people about drugs, and she mentioned that perhaps -- and said this in answer to a question -- that the most important thing young people could do to fight drugs is ``just say no.'' Well, today Just Say No is a national organization with 10,000 chapters across this country.


Nancy, with her tireless efforts, I think, has contributed to an overwhelming change in consciousness that is taking place in America. The flippant attitude about drugs is changing. Even in my old business, the film business, there seem to be hopeful signs that they are now recognizing their responsibility to do something about this. Historically, the film industry has been a responsible force in our society, something well understood by those in the corporate office, as well as those of us in front of the cameras. I would hope that in the months ahead we will hear public expressions of support for those in the entertainment world who use their enormous influence, especially on the young, to oppose drugs. This is especially true of rock stars, who should be encouraged to have courage and to give a public thumbs down to drugs. As a matter of fact, you would be interested to know that among that musical group or groups, right now, there are some who are trying to plan and organize drug-free rock concerts.


Sports figures have a tremendous influence. I hope that every athlete will reflect on the impressions he or she gives as a role model to young, adoring fans. All those in the sports world should understand what a great force for good they can be. And you know, in that area, that would be a return, because I was a sports announcer at the beginning of my career -- broadcasting major league baseball and the big university football and so forth -- and you might be interested to know that back in that era, no sports figure would endorse cigarettes or beer. Drugs weren't a problem at that time because they knew they were role models and felt that they had an obligation to be the right kind of role model for all of our young people. So, we are asking for that to be returned. And I want to thank Dr. Bowen and his team over at HHS for the leadership they are providing on this issue. One example is the enlistment of major league ballplayers, like Mike Schmidt of the Philadelphia Phillies, to participate in an education program against cocaine, the killer drug.


And a special word of thanks to Dr. Macdonald of the Alcohol, Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration who is a real champion in our crusade. Mac was actually active with Nancy's campaign long before joining our administration. The number of crusaders is growing. We mean to create an antidrug environment in this country, an environment that will strengthen those who are making the right decisions and will cast the scowl of disapproval on those who would use drugs and misuse alcohol.


Early on in the administration, we focused on interdiction and eradication, on hitting the growers, the transporters, and the sellers. Well, our assault on supply has had some notable success and will continue. But what we've launched in the last few days has been what I think is the real answer, an offensive against demand. This, in the long run, is the answer. Let's take the customers away from the drug peddlers. It is clear that our domestic drug demand fuels international drug trafficking and cuts at the social, political, and economic fabric of friendly countries.


Today I am announcing that in September I will be calling back for special consultations our Ambassadors from other countries which may face major drug production, transportation, or consumption problems. I'll outline the steps that we're taking to strike at the heart of this monster by curbing domestic demand so they can take the message back with them to the countries where they serve. Together, all countries must send the message: No drug networks will remain alive. We mean to have a drug-free country, and the world should know we mean business. There're already reasons for optimism. In our Armed Forces in general, drug use has been cut by 67 percent since 1980. The daily use of marijuana among our high school students is down, as is the use of a variety of drugs for high school and college students.


The sum total of this can be looked at as a good first step. One of the joys of my Presidency is getting to meet and know this generation of American youth. I think it's one of the finest we've ever had. If he hadn't said it first, back at the beginning of World War II when someone asked General George Marshall what was our secret weapon, and he said, ``The best blankety-blank kids in the world.'' [Laughter] Well, I think it would well be that this generation will lead America out of the swamps of illegal drugs. Drug use is a pervasive problem that afflicts all ages, all races, and all income levels. Today's young people, with their energy and ideals, with their commitment to a better future, could well have a greater impact on the rest of us than any generation before. I say we should give them every bit of support that we can.


Earlier this week I announced six goals for us to focus our attention on, goals that will end America's drug epidemic. And the first is a drug-free workplace. It's particularly vital that those in sensitive occupations have clear minds. But we're looking for a drug-free workplace for every working person, in government and out. Number two is drug-free schools, from grade schools through universities. Local authorities, parents, and educators can do it; and the time is now. This fall everyone should be made aware from day one that drugs on campus, used or sold by anyone, are a thing of the past and that strong action will back up that pronouncement. Our third goal is tackling the health dangers stemming from drug abuse. Research can find better treatments, more effective prevention, and better methods of drug testing. Our fourth goal is nothing less than a total international commitment to defeat this evil. And now that other countries know we're attacking the demand side, this should be made much easier. Fifth, we plan to strengthen our enforcement effort; that means building upon what we've already done, including, where appropriate, increasing the support that is given by the United States military in this effort. The sixth goal, and the one that is essential if the others are to have a chance for success, is increasing the public's awareness and involvement in the fight against drugs.


This is not just a fight for government. It's not just leadership from the White House and the statehouse, but leadership from the pulpit, the union hall, the corporate office, the school board, and from the media that will permit us to rid our land of this scourge. Consistent with the theme of your conference, ``Sharing Knowledge for Action,'' we must make drug use the top item in the national dialog, so that every citizen realizes what the stakes are, for the individual and for the country. Plato said long ago, ``For our discussion is on no trifling matter, but on the right way to conduct our lives.''


Well, we must determine how we, as free people, will conduct our lives, what our standards are, what behavior we will and will not tolerate. The time has come to decide on this issue and act, each of us. I want to thank all of you for the magnificent work you are doing, and will continue to do, to ensure that America meets this challenge. Our goal is to do everything we can to help you have an awful lot of allies added to your ranks in the immediate time ahead. So, thank you, and God bless you all.


Note: The President spoke at 2:12 p.m. in the ballroom at the Hyatt Regency Hotel.