Ronald Reagan picture

Radio Address to the Nation on Drug Abuse and Trafficking

April 16, 1988

My fellow Americans:

The news has been bad lately, and that's good. And here's why. You've probably been hearing reports about Panamanian strong man General Noriega, who's been indicted for drug trafficking, and his struggle to stay in power despite pressure from his own people and our government to step down. You've also been hearing about the drug-related arrests of many street gang members in Los Angeles. And then, too, there's the news about congressional investigations of organized crime's involvement in the drug trade.

Now, these news reports reflect an important change since the start of our administration in 1981. At the time, we faced a crisis of crime stemming from the illegal drug trade, especially in south Florida. At my urging, Vice President Bush headed up a task force that performed invaluable service by coordinating the activities of all law enforcement agencies in the area and for the first time brought to bear against the drug smugglers the full weight of Federal resources. This included high-tech military equipment and the resources of the intelligence community.

Less than a year later, I went over to the Justice Department to announce a sweeping effort to break the back of organized crime in America. And a key part of this approach was the hiring of more than 1,000 new agents and prosecutors as part of 12 regional drug task forces based on the south Florida model. We also set up a President's Commission on Organized Crime that did landmark work in tracing the international connections of the domestic drug trade, pointing out the usefulness of drug testing, and exposing not only the old style Maria's involvement in the drug trade but also the danger of new, emerging crime gangs. In addition to all this, we got enacted sweeping legislative initiatives like the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 and the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986.

This early attention to the criminal side of the drug problem, which has translated into a tripling of the overall antidrug budget, is now paying dividends. Cocaine seizures have increased by over 1,800 percent, arrests of major drug traffickers have increased by almost 200 percent, and well over $500 million in drug-related assets were seized in 1987 alone. And this kind of success at the Federal level would not be possible without an unprecedented degree of Federal, State, and local cooperation. Here in Washington this commitment is best evidenced by our Cabinet-level National Drug Policy Board, as well as the Vice President's National Narcotics Border Interdiction System, and the Department of Justice's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces.

But emphasizing the criminal side of the drug problem is only part of defeating the drug menace. Thanks to the efforts of Nancy's Just Say No campaign, Americans are understanding that the permanent way to end the drug menace is to deny the drug pusher his market—to stop demand. And that means education and prevention. It means understanding that drug use is not a victimless crime—that drugs kill and maim and finance the criminal underground. It means accepting the concept of user responsibility. It means realizing that those who use drugs are, in Nancy's words, making themselves accomplices to murder.

Now, in addition to prevention and education and drug law enforcement, we have also been emphasizing the international side of the problem. When we came into office there were drug eradication programs underway in only two countries. Today that number is 23. In fact, this administration has signed an unprecedented number of mutual legal assistance treaties, extradition treaties, and eradication agreements. The unprecedented indictment of Panamanian leader Noriega for drug trafficking by a U.S. grand jury is a further indication of our nation's resolve to end the foreign supply of drugs. His nation is in a crisis of his making.

But, as I said at the beginning, the fact that we're seeing more media coverage of the drug problem and the heat put on people like General Noriega and the street gangs in Los Angeles, or organized crime in general, is good news. Public awareness about the destructiveness of illegal drugs is at an all-time high. Americans are increasingly saying no to drugs. A recent survey of high school seniors showed a significant drop in cocaine and marijuana use.

We have a long way to go before we have a drug free America, and I hope the media keeps emphasizing that point. But it's also true America has awakened to this problem. That's quite a change from just a decade ago. So, that's the good news, the very good news, about the bad news of drug abuse.

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m, from Camp David, MD.

Ronald Reagan, Radio Address to the Nation on Drug Abuse and Trafficking Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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