Ronald Reagan picture

Remarks Announcing the Campaign Against Drug Abuse and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters

August 04, 1986

The President. Good afternoon. During one of my first press conferences as President, I pledged that fighting drug abuse would be a major goal of our administration. Nancy had already made it her major role. I am proud of the enormous effort that's been made in these last 51/2 years to follow through on that pledge. We've waged a good fight. The military forces have dramatically reduced drug use by 67 percent. We've been on the offensive attacking the peddlers, the transporters, the smugglers, the growers—everyone who's a part of the international network that channels drugs into America's neighborhoods and communities. Arrests are up, confiscations are up, cooperation with other nations has increased.

So much has been accomplished, and I am encouraged that so many others from every walk of life are now joining the struggle. And yet drug use continues. And its consequences escalate, claiming so many victims, including promising young athletes, and bringing sorrow and heartbreak into homes across our country. Drug use threatens the health and safety of millions of Americans, it extracts a high cost—the cost of crime stemming from drugs, the cost of drug-related health problems, the cost in productivity, the cost in the quality of American manufactured goods as we compete on the world market—but most of all the cost in lives. Drugs, in one way or the other, are victimizing all of us. And that's why I am here today: to announce six major goals of what we hope will be the final stage in our national strategy to eradicate drug abuse. I should point out that each of these goals includes a number of Federal policy options that I will mention as we go along. But as you know, I've always insisted that such steps be the subject of a full discussion and debate within the administration before any final decisions as made.

So, I will talk today of goals and a number of specific steps, and we'll have further announcements in the very near future. But I want you to know that our announcements will deal not just with what government will do, but what all of us will do—and must do. For the key to our antidrug strategy—my very reason for being here this afternoon—is not to announce another short-term government offensive, but to call instead for a national crusade against drugs, a sustained, relentless effort to rid America of this scourge—by mobilizing every segment of our society against drug abuse. But as I say, the solution does not lie simply within the realm of government, Federal or State. It's time to go beyond government. All the confiscation and law enforcement in the world will not cure this plague as long as it is kept alive by public acquiescence. So, we must now go beyond efforts aimed only at affecting the supply of drugs; we must affect not only supply but demand.

I believe we've come to a time when the American people are willing to make it clear that illegal drug and alcohol use will no longer be tolerated, a time when we will take those steps necessary to rid America of this deeply disruptive and corrosive evil. So, starting today Nancy's crusade to deprive the drug peddlers and suppliers of their customers becomes America's crusade. We mean to reach out to the drug user, and we mean to prevent others from becoming users. Our goal is not to throw users in jail but to free them from drugs. We will offer a helping hand, but we will also pressure the user at school and in the workplace to straighten up, to get clean. We will refuse to let drug users blame their behavior on others; we will insist they take responsibility for their own actions. And finally, yet first and foremost, we will get the message to the potential user that drug use will no longer be tolerated; that they must learn to "just say no." Nancy spoke those words in Oakland, California, just a few years ago, and today there are now more than 10,000 Just Say No clubs among our young people all across America.

If this battle is to be won—and it must-each and every one of us has to take a stand and get involved. Leadership and commitment must be evident, not only in the White House and the statehouse but also in the pulpit, at the workplace, in the union hall, in our schools, and in the media. If we're to defeat this enemy, we've got to do it as one people, together united in purpose and committed to victory. And victory in this case is a drug-free generation. Those who know this country understand that once the American people set their minds to something, there's nothing we can't accomplish. Precisely because the realization is finally taking hold that drugs threaten our nation, neighborhoods, and families, the time has come for a national mobilization, one that strikes now at the heart of the problem.

In 1982 we released our first strategy, a Federal strategy. We revised it and made it a national strategy in September 1984. Today I'm announcing six initiatives to build on what we've accomplished and lead us toward a drug-free America.

Our first goal is to seek a drug-free workplace for all Americans. Progress in this area is needed to protect working people and the public and to increase the productivity of our country. It's particularly important that workers in sensitive occupations are clearminded and free from the effects of illegal drugs. To accomplish this we propose to create a drug-free workplace for all Federal employees; to encourage State and local government to follow the Federal Government's example; to solicit commitments from government contractors to establish drug-free work environs; to mobilize management and labor leaders in the private sector to fight this problem.

Our second goal is drug-free schools, from grade schools through universities. Four major steps are being considered: enlisting the help of local educators and school officials; making certain that Federal laws against distributing drugs in or near schools are known and enforced in cooperation with local authorities; encouraging local school districts to expand their drug abuse education as part of an overall health curriculum; seeking a commitment from local and State government to require schools within their jurisdiction to be drug free.

The health dangers posed by drugs are increasingly evident. Our third goal is ensuring the public is protected and those involved in drugs are treated. Three steps are under consideration: encouraging States and communities to develop programs to treat specific drug-related health problems; improving research in health-related areas, including drug testing; bolstering medical and health programs aimed at prevention.

Fourth is international cooperation. We must build on what we've already accomplished and move forward. Earlier this year I raised the priority of drug abuse by declaring it a threat to our national security. Now, our goal is nothing less than the full and active support and cooperation of every country with which the United States must work to defeat international drug trafficking. To accomplish this, we can take additional steps to expand our joint efforts in affecting or attacking drug and narcotic traffickers at the source; continue Vice President Bush's initiatives to increase the support given by the United States military to drug law enforcement operations whenever it's appropriate; intensify efforts with other nations to hit the traffickers where it hurts, in the pocketbook, by further clamping down on money laundering and other transactions conducted with drug money.

Our fifth goal is strengthening law enforcement. Here again much has been accomplished, but we can build upon existing programs to hit drug traffickers with the force and power of a renewed sense of purpose. The following actions could be part of this: insisting that the criminal justice system give prompt and severe punishment to drug peddlers, the big guys and the little guys; directing law enforcement coordinating committees and U.S. attorneys to prosecute those who sell drugs in or near school property to the fullest extent of the law; instructing the Vice President and Attorney General to expedite a comprehensive new effort on our southern border, complementing current programs, to stop illegal drug entry into the United States.

The sixth goal is primary. We must expand public awareness and prevention. Now, we've come a long way on this front. Attitudes are changing; so, now is the time to enlist those who have yet to join the fight. We can do this by reaching out to all Americans and asking them to join Nancy's drug abuse awareness and prevention campaign; taking a stand in every city, town, and village in this country and making certain drug users fully understand their fellow citizens will no longer tolerate drug use; disseminating credible and accurate information about the danger posed by drugs. Users should know we are concerned and understand there is a legitimate reason to be concerned.

In these next few weeks, the administration will be preparing for an action campaign, based on many of the points I've made here today, to be launched when the kids start returning to school in the fall. So, this is chapter one, more to come. Thank you.

Q. Will you set an example, you and the administration, and take drug tests yourselves and ask the Cabinet to?

The President. I've talked about that with the Cabinet, and if we see that this could be a useful thing and show the way to others—yes, we all agreed that we'd do it.

Q. Well, what about the subject, though, of mandatory testing for Federal employees? Have you decided that for all employees it's not such a good idea—an invasion of privacy, perhaps?

The President. Now, you're going to ask some questions here that are under discussion and that still we have not set out a pattern, but we're spending long hours at this. But I could say this: I think we're pretty much agreed that mandatory testing is justified where the employees have the health of others and the safety of others in their hands. People that you're depending on for safety and things of this kind should do it—security reasons. On the other hand, I think we're pretty much agreed that what we should seek is voluntary—we should work with labor leaders and with our own people here in government and see if they could not see the advantage of setting a pattern and an example for all of society.

Q. Mr. President, you didn't say anything today about spending more Federal money on drug enforcement; and, in fact, the level of spending has remained current or gone down a little bit. Is rhetoric alone enough to take care of this?

The President. It isn't just rhetoric alone. We're talking about a lot of people who are, right now—organizations that are actively engaged and so forth. But let me say this-no, we did step up as far as law enforcement was concerned—that area.

There seems to be a little misunderstanding about a reduction out here with regard to grants and so forth about drug use and rehabilitation and so forth. Actually, what we set out to do, based on the experience of some of us in State government and local government, was that too many Federal programs are sent out to local and State levels—just wrapped in red tape and with specific designations as to exactly how every penny must be spent. And we found that that has led to a situation in which many times the greatest part of the money was used for administrative overhead and not actually getting at the problem. So, what we did—yes, we reduced, but we changed to block grants. And we know from that experience out of the State level that if you give a block grant and trust to the local authorities, their freedom to do this in the most expeditious manner in their area—treat with the problems that they see as the greatest problem—that you have more money actually going to the task and not wasted in Federal-mandated overhead.

Q. Sir, if I can just follow up. You propose to do what you outlined today without spending any additional Federal money?

The President. Oh, no—no, no. No. We know that there's going to be a cost, and we're going to have to look at where we are going to find that money. Because, for example, we believe that schools and workplaces—we believe that we should—to those people that are found to be using drugs—that if we don't threaten them with losing their jobs or kicking them out of school—what we say to them is, we want to help you get well. Now, if there's going to be increased testing, that is costly. If there's going to be extra burden imposed on the treatment centers and so forth, we're going to have to find funds for that, and we recognize that.

Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International]?

Q. Margaret Thatcher has said now that she will go for limited sanctions. Have you changed your mind at all in terms of sanctions?

The President. Helen, I'm not going to violate my own rule here today. I'm not going to change the subject on anything. I'll take questions on this subject alone. Let me take you.

Q. Mr. President, the supply of illegal drugs has never been more varied, more abundant, more potent, or less expensive than it is today. Isn't this new crusade just an acknowledgment that you can't do anything about the supply?

The President. I don't think you should give up on that. You have to do that. What it does recognize is what I think many of us recognized even while we were stepping that program up, and that is, you're not going to succeed until you take the customer away from the drugs. At the same time, however, you can increase the price by cutting down on the supply, by confiscation of the means of delivery and so forth. The Government, right now, already owns quite a fleet of yachts and airplanes and trucks and so forth that have been involved in that trade and that we have already intercepted. And you can make it more difficult for the buyer. But at the same time, the real cure is going to be turning, particularly, our young people off.

Q. Mr. President, what will you say to your—

The President. Wait until I—I'll come back there.

Q. Mr. President, what will you say to your critics who say you're 5 years too late—that if you'd been serious about this, you would have started it earlier, and you're doing it now only because public opinion polls show that it would be popular politically?

The President. No, that's not true. We stepped up the, as I say, the interdiction process very much. It takes awhile to find out how these things work. We haven't before put the effort that we recognize now should be put, and that is to create in the minds of all America—and those in this room could be most helpful in that—that the time has come for a nationwide crusade against this thing that is destroying and threatening so many of our young people particularly, but that is raising the cost in industry. Business is losing $100 million a year because—

Q. Why hadn't you done it before?

The President. Well, maybe it took awhile to see that the things that were going forward—programs that went from just a few organizations to, as I said earlier, 10,000 organizations across the country—that that growing thing needs—that needs the added help that can be given by doing this.

Q. Sir, would you give the Customs collector more men to work at the border? Did you give more money to the border patrol, more personnel?

The President. You're saying as if everything that I am announcing is in the past. As I said here, we are still at work on this. This is a kind of a preliminary announcement of what it is the problems and what-the general format. These specifics are yet to come, and as I say, I'll be making further announcements.

Q. Is there danger that these voluntary programs could become coercive and that those who refuse to take them may come under suspicion in some fashion?

The President. As I've said, we're going to encourage the use of voluntarism where it is not a case of endangering someone's safety. But at the same time, I think we're pretty much agreed that we should make it plain that we're not out to get people and fire them, and we're not out to get kids and kick them out of school for using it. What we're out to do is to see if they will not recognize that we want to help them, and they don't lose from that, so I don't see how that could become coercive.

Q. Will there be any government pressure on people to take these voluntary tests?

The President. Well, the only pressure that I could see is, if they see other examples and if they see groups stepping forward and saying, "Yes, we'll do this in the interest of the cause." Well, then there's a kind of a peer pressure put on people.

Q. Mr. President, if there were two events which did this in your mind, which made you decide to do this now?

Mr. Speakes. Let's make this the last question, please.

The President. Yes, well, because I have someone here that's more authoritative on this subject that will be speaking to you and taking your questions. No, I think they all added to this, and some of the tragedies recently that have been so spectacular, so well publicized. But when you see some of the increasing figures that we have seen-and some recently. Sam [Sam Donaldson, ABC News], in answer to your question, not that we've known them all this time, but when we find out the percentage of children that are being approached about drugs in the fourth grade. This has not existed always, but this continued stepping up of a trying to increase the market, this is very much of what has led to this, but now—

Q. What about Hollywood?

Q. Will you—[inaudible]—textile override, sir?

Q. Have you heard from Hollywood, Mr. President?

Q. What about Hollywood's role?

Q. Have you heard from your friends in Hollywood?

Q. You were tough.

The President. I will take that question, because in the interview some things were edited out. I spoke of little gratuitous scenes put in for comedy relief that made it look kind of funny, and all fun together-drugs—as once upon a time Hollywood did with drinking scenes. But if you've noticed over the years, recently, you rarely see a scene for straight comedy of someone being drunk. Well, the same thing is generally happening. Now, the part that was left out of what I said is that the motion picture industry itself is talking about making sure that they don't do this. You can't police every individual who wants to go wild—and producing a picture and put in some scene of that kind as the one that I mentioned recently. But also, Nancy has met with the head of the Motion Picture Producers Association-and that there is a movement going on now in Hollywood as to what they can do about this.

Q. Since when?

The President. What?

Q. Since when?

The President. Just recently. And with regard to the music thing—and we do know about the lyrics of some of those songs, plus the usage and the behavior at rock concerts and so forth—well, you might be interested and pleased to know that a large number of the musicians in that field are organizing to see if they cannot start promoting rock concerts without drugs.

Q. You're not going to take this away from Mrs. Reagan, are you? Now that your staff is working on this issue, you're not going to take this away from Mrs. Reagan, are you?

The President. Do I look like an idiot?

Note: The President spoke at 3:01 p.m. to reporters in the Briefing Room at the White House. Larry M. Speakes was Principal Deputy Press Secretary to the President.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks Announcing the Campaign Against Drug Abuse and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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