John F. Kennedy photo

Remarks to the White House Conference on Narcotic and Drug Abuse.

September 27, 1962

Mr. Attorney General, Mr. Secretary, Governor Brown, Mr. Secretary, Mayor Wagner, Mr. Chairman, participants in this ference:

I want to welcome you to Washington on a matter which I think needs great, urgent, public attention. The White House conferences can be useful or they can be merely window dressing. But I don't think that there is any field about which there is so much divided opinion, so much possible to do, and, in some places, so limited in action as this field of narcotics and drug control of abuse.

For more than a half century this Nation has faced persistent and difficult problems arising out of the abuse of narcotics and nonnarcotic drugs. It is especially tragic and upsetting that this great loss to our society in the form of human suffering and misery and lost productivity flows directly from agents which possess the capacity to relieve pain and suffering. Properly and expertly used, they contribute significantly to the improvement and betterment of our lives.

This national problem merits national concern. I'm confident that the White House conference, the first ever held in this field, will help focus attention on the various aspects of the problem and, most importantly, will permit a pooling of our information and experiences to the end that an orderly, vigorous, and direct attack can be undertaken at all levels, local, State, Federal, and international.

Assembled here today are representatives from cities, States, and 12 different Federal agencies, including many of the Nation's most distinguished men and women in the field of medicine, law, sociology, education, and law enforcement.

There is universal agreement that the two key objectives of an effective program are the elimination of illicit traffic in drugs and, secondly, the rehabilitation and restoration to society of drug addicts. In recent years we have seen a dramatic and drastic reduction in the volume of illegal narcotics and drugs brought into this country. This is a result of the cooperative effort of numerous Federal, State, and local agencies, but I must single out the Federal Bureau of Narcotics for special note. Under the forceful and purposeful leadership of Commissioner Anslinger, the Bureau reduced this misery-producing traffic so effectively that where 35 years ago addicts could purchase percent, or pure, heroin, the sharply curtailed amount entering the United States today requires traffickers to dilute their product to the point that the addict obtains only 3 to 5 percent heroin in the packet that he purchases.

This morning I presented a special citation to Commissioner Anslinger, expressing the appreciation and gratitude owed by the people of the United States to him, and by the world community for the enormous contribution he has made in this vital field.

This aspect of the attack on the drug abuse problem must continue, and I'm confident that the conference panel devoted to this subject will bring together our Nation's most experienced and skilled personnel. Although there is admittedly some divergence of view regarding the remedial action which is most appropriate for the addict who peddles illicit narcotics, there is no divergence of opinion on the need for vastly improved techniques and programs aimed at rehabilitating all addicts.

The discouragingly high degree of relapse among addicts who leave our medical institutions free of any physical dependence on drugs is clear evidence that more must be done. One of the areas where I feel that there is some need for improvement is in the collection of statistics. I've seen various governmental agencies report figures dealing with the same matters which are quite different and, therefore, I hope that this conference will stimulate the orderly collection of statistics by both the States and the Federal Government, which will serve as a basis for action.

In addition, I think that there is clear need for, we hope, greater uniformity of opinion by those in this field--medicine, law enforcement, and all the rest--as to the proper method of treatment, how much should be done in hospitals, how much should be done in outpatient treatment, what kind of hospitals we need, what kind of medical treatment is most effective. On all these matters, there is such a variety of opinion that I feel that this conference can play a more significant role than most conferences in attempting to assemble in a more unified viewpoint for guidance the varying opinions in the field and the varying suggestions for improvement.

We have had, as you know, the Science Advisory Committee, headed by Dr. Wiesher, who has had a panel working on this matter. The results of this panel 1 have been made available to all of you and I hope will serve as the basis for further discussion, but I do believe that there is no area about which there is so much mystery and, in a sense, so much misunderstanding, where there is so much difference of opinion, and, therefore, I think that this conference can serve a more useful role than many other conferences have served in the past.

1 The "Progress Report of an Ad Hoc Panel on Drug Abuse" (59 PP., processed) was released by the White House on September 7, 1962.

This conference should not be merely window dressing, but instead should serve as a basis for a much more effective and renewed action by the National Government, as well as by the States. Some of the States have been extremely advanced in this field. We're glad that Governor Brown is here. California has taken a very active role in this matter, but I think that there's a good deal more that the States, as well as the Federal Government, can do.

What I think we are looking for from you gentlemen is guidance about what actions we might take, where should be the thrust of the national action? I'm sure we can secure budgetary support once we've made a clear determination as to what should be the road of governmental action, as well as action by the State.

One problem meriting special attention deals with the growing abuse of nonnarcotic drugs, including barbiturates and amphetamines. Society's gains will be illusory if we reduce the incidence of one kind of drug dependence, only to have new kinds of drugs substituted. Abuse of these drugs is increasing problems of abnormal and antisocial behavior, highway accidents, juvenile delinquency, and broken homes. The Congress is now considering legislation which I requested to strengthen Federal authority to control the manufacture and distribution of barbiturates and stimulant drugs. This key area should be the subject of continuous, extensive scrutiny. The sooner effective devices for preventing abuse of these drugs are implemented, the less severe the problem will be.

Our focus on national issues must not obscure the international aspects of our drug abuse problem. Criminals responsible for international traffic in illicit narcotics have no respect for national boundaries. Many nations have a real concern in controlling illicit traffic. Towards this end, the United States through our representation on the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, has sought international cooperation in dealing with this trade. In addition, the United States Government will continue to work directly with other nations to secure adequate international controls.

In my recent conversations with President Mateos of Mexico, we discussed the eradication of illegal drug traffic and agreed to redouble our efforts and our cooperation to achieve it. The Bureau of Narcotics has cooperated with narcotic enforcement officers in Europe and in the Near and Middle East to strike at the foreign sources of illicit narcotics traffic intended for United States consumption. These efforts have been so successful that the activity of the Bureau of Narcotics is being expanded to other parts of the world, a program which will be implemented before the end of the year.

It is unfortunate that in this area of drug abuse, as I said at the beginning, there have been conflicting approaches, a dearth of hard, factual data, and only partial cooperation between Federal, State, and local government levels. It is our hope, therefore, that this conference will give us more effective guidance to determine how more effective means for control of the traffic across State and international borders can be achieved, what judgments you can make as to the most effective means of treatment, both in the hospitals and out of the hospitals, what are the most effective kinds of hospitals, where Federal energy should be directed in the next year, where State energy should be directed, and how important a role environment, circumstances, jobs, how important a role these play on men and women who have been cured but who must return to the same environment from which they came, in which their addiction first began.

All these are problems on which we need guidance. I don't think there is any area on which a conference could be held where the members of the conference could play a more significant role. This conference and its members, I know, do not consider themselves as ornamental fixtures to give sort of a public look at a problem; instead, we want direct guidance from you, and this mixture of talents and experiences which are brought together here at this White House conference, the first one ever held in this field, can serve as a very positive base for much more comprehensive action by us all.

What you do here we will attempt, and what you suggest we will attempt to implement, and I think after a year has gone by we can make a real judgment on the success of this conference.

I want to express my personal appreciation to all of you who carry many burdens and responsibilities, to all of you for having come, therefore, and taking part in this vital meeting.

Gentlemen, thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 10 a.m. in the State Department Auditorium. His opening words referred to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who served as chairman of the conference, Secretary of the Treasury C. Douglas Dillon, Governor Edmund G. (Pat) Brown of California, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Anthony J. Celebrezze, and Mayor Robert Wagner of New York City.

John F. Kennedy, Remarks to the White House Conference on Narcotic and Drug Abuse. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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