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2002 National Drug Control Strategy

National Priorities I: Stopping Use Before It Starts


  • Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program: $644 million
    ($634.8 million drug-related). This program funds activities that address drug and violence prevention for young people. To improve evaluation and better direct program activities, ONDCP will work with the Department of Education to develop a useful evaluation plan that will impose program accountability while alerting schools to problem areas.
  • Drug-Free Communities Program: $60 million.
    This program provides assistance to community groups on forming and sustaining effective community and anti-drug coalitions that fight the use of illegal drugs, alcohol, and tobacco by youth. The Administration proposes an increase of $9.4 million over the fiscal year 2002 enacted level. Further, this request includes $2 million for the National Community Anti-Drug Coalition Institute. The Institute will provide education, training, and technical assistance for coalition leaders and community teams and will help coalitions to evaluate their own performance.
  • National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign: $180 million.
    The Media Campaign uses paid media messages to guide youth and parent attitudes about drug use and its consequences. Targeted, high impact, paid media advertisements—at both the national and local levels—seek to reduce drug use through changes in adolescents' perceptions of the danger and social disapproval of drugs.
  • Parents Drug Corps Program: $5 million.
    This new initiative funded through the Corporation for National and Community Service will encourage parents to help children stay drug-free by training them in drug prevention skills and methods.

Stopping Use Before It Starts: Education and Community Action

Common sense tells us that preventing young people from experimenting with drugs in the first place is preferable to later—and more costly—treatment, rehabilitation, and possible incarceration.

Preventing drug use before it starts spares families the anguish of watching a relative slip into the grasp of addiction and protects society from many risks, such as those created by workers whose mental faculties are dulled by chemicals. Prevention is also the most cost-effective approach to the drug problem, sparing society the burden of treatment, rehabilitation, lost productivity, and other social pathologies—costs estimated at $160 billion per year.

We know that prevention works. We know that, if we prevent young people from using drugs through age 18, the chance of their using drugs as adults is very small. We know that the use of alcohol by young people has been linked to a range of social pathologies, including the use of illegal drugs. We also know that prevention requires real and sustained effort by adults and peers. We know, in other words, a great deal. What we know presents us with a challenge: to face up to our shared responsibility to keep young people from ever using drugs.

Prevention programs involve schools and faith-based organizations, civic groups, and the mass media. But the single indispensable element of an effective prevention program is not a program at all. Parents and other caregivers have a tremendous influence on whether their kids use drugs. Intuition suggests this; the data confirm it. According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, kids whose parents (or grandparents) teach them about the dangers of drugs are 36 percent less likely to smoke marijuana, 50 percent less likely to use inhalants, 56 percent less likely to use cocaine, and 65 percent less likely to use LSD.

But parents cannot do it alone. Schools, communities, the media, and others must offer prevention messages that are unambiguous and convey a direct message that drug use is dangerous, is wrong, and will not be tolerated.

At the level of school-based programs, drug prevention includes imparting factual, research-based drug education and teaching drug-refusal skills. Many effective prevention programs convey the dangers of underage drinking. Yet effective prevention programs go beyond merely reciting the dangers of drug use—dangers that might seem remote to many young people. A hallmark of many effective prevention programs is motivating young people to see their self-worth and purpose in society as part of the broader community. For young people, understanding one's place in society and learning to take responsibility for one's actions are at least as important as knowing the risks of smoking marijuana.

President Bush has said: "We recognize that the most important work to reduce drug use is done in America's living rooms and classrooms, in churches and synagogues and mosques, in the workplace, and in our neighborhoods. Families, schools, communities, and faith-based organizations shape the character of young people. They teach children right from wrong, respect for law, respect for others, and respect for themselves."

Project STAR is a broad-based prevention program that teaches young people social skills and techniques to resist using drugs, even in the face of peer pressure. Unlike many prevention programs, Project STAR operates in the community, mass media, home, and in the schools. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, research findings on the project show that students who began the program in junior high, and whose results were measured in their senior year of high school, showed significantly less use of marijuana (about 30 percent less), cigarettes (about 25 percent less), and alcohol (about 20 percent less) than children in schools that did not offer the program. The most important factor found to have affected drug use among the students was an increased perception of their friends' intolerance of drug use.

Drug use will abate only when parents, teachers, religious and civic leaders, and employers join together to reaffirm the principles of personal responsibility. Those working at the community level are making a lasting difference in our drug problem, applying Americans' renewed understanding of the importance of working together as citizens to push back against a menace that threatens us all.

The newly reauthorized Drug-Free Communities Support Program will provide critical resources to expand prevention programs across America, including small towns, rural areas, and Native American communities, all of which have been hit hard in recent years by drug problems that have historically plagued big cities.

Community coalitions address geographic communities, but drug use can flourish in other types of communities, including our colleges and universities. It is surprising to many parents that, although college-bound high school students are less likely to use illegal drugs than their peers, they have caught up by the time of college graduation, according to data from Monitoring the Future. Administrators at our colleges and universities also need to do a better job of controlling underage drinking. Although not governed by the same statutes as illegal drugs, underage drinking is illegal, is at epidemic levels on many college campuses, and can have equally devastating consequences.

This Administration will provide national leadership and resources to those working to prevent drug abuse at the community level. For example, the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign, in partnership with the Ad Council and Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, will spread the message that community coalitions are vital catalysts in preventing drug use. The Parents Drug Corps Program, funded through the Corporation for National and Community Service, will encourage parents to help children stay drug-free by training them in drug prevention skills and methods, and will promote cooperation nationally among a network of parent organizations and community anti-drug coalitions.

The Fighting Back Partnership of Vallejo, California, was formed in response to the city’s escalating crime rate in the late 1980s, blamed largely on gang activity and use of methamphetamine and crack cocaine. A coalition of churches, individuals, and agencies in the fields of substance abuse treatment, law enforcement, and education, as well as private businesses, took action on three fronts: revitalizing neighborhoods, helping young people, and encouraging individuals in need to enter treatment. Today, in this racially diverse city of 118,000, neighborhood crime and drug use is down, the number of patients in substance abuse treatment has increased, calls for police assistance have declined, and residents say Vallejo is a safer, more desirable place to live.

This real work of reducing drug use is opposed by armchair theorists who want to define the problem away and normalize drug use. The outright legalization of drugs—a goal that is opposed by a solid majority of Americans—rests on the flawed premise that because some people will inevitably make bad choices, society should supply the means for those choices and pay for their consequences. Those consequences would be devastating—starting with what even proponents acknowledge would be an increase in drug use. Whether in their undiluted form or in other guises, such as "harm reduction," efforts to legalize drugs represent the ultimate in disastrous social policy. This Administration will oppose them.

It goes without saying that we need to reduce the great harms associated with drug use. But it should be equally obvious that we can only do that in ways that do not increase drug use and undermine our own prevention efforts. It is time to put the distracting argument about harm reduction behind us. We stand both for reducing drug use and its attendant consequences.

This is an effort in which every American has a role to play. In homes, schools, places of worship, the workplace, and civic and social organizations, we can set norms that both reaffirm the value of responsibility and good citizenship and dismiss the notion that drug use is consistent with the "pursuit of happiness" by a free and self-governing people. With national leadership and community engagement, we can—and we will—recreate the formula that helped America succeed against drugs in the past. We will bring resolve to our efforts, we will bring together coalitions of uniquely qualified individuals, and we will bring a renewed sense of purpose to the challenge of preventing drug use. And we will see drug use recede.

Last Updated: July 9, 2002