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2002 National Drug Control Strategy


In December 2001, the University of Michigan released its annual survey, Monitoring the Future, which measures drug use among American youth. Very little had changed from the previous year’s report; most indicators were flat. The report generated little in the way of public comment.

Yet what Monitoring the Future had to say was deeply disturbing. Though drug use among our Nation’s 8th, 10th, and 12th graders remains stable, it nevertheless is at levels that are close to record highs. More than 50 percent of our high school seniors experimented with illegal drugs at least once prior to graduation. And, during the month prior to the survey, 25 percent of seniors used illegal drugs, and 32 percent reported being drunk at least once.

This situation is not new. Indeed, drug use among our young people has hovered at unacceptably high levels for most of the past decade. As in the 1960s and 1970s, drug use has once again become all too accepted by our youth.

As self-styled drug policy "reformers" never tire of pointing out, people who use marijuana or cocaine once or twice do not invariably graduate to a life of drug addiction—just as not every teenager who drives drunk ends up in the emergency room. Yet a large percentage do in fact remain drug users. Recent data from Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse show that roughly 60 percent of children who try cocaine and LSD during high school are still using drugs at graduation.

Although not establishing a causal relationship, other data from the Center show that a young person who smokes marijuana is 85 times more likely to try cocaine. Data from another study show that the earlier people initiate drug use, the more likely they are to develop a drug problem later in life. According to the latest National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, adults who first used marijuana at the age of 14 or younger were 5 times more likely to be classified as drug dependent or abusers than adults who first used marijuana at age 18 or older. And if the long-term experience of many baby boomers (see Figure 1 on the following page) holds true for today’s teenagers—a suspicion bolstered by recent discoveries in the field of brain imaging—the consequences of drug use among today’s teenagers will be felt for decades.

Therein lies the enormous challenge for our Nation. Drug use among today’s teenagers threatens to reverberate for years to come in areas as disparate as crime rates, the success of our Nation’s colleges, the productivity of our industrial base, and the cohesiveness of our families.

That the individual consequences of drug use can be deadly is now well accepted—progress over decades past when drugs were held out as a door to enlightenment, or, at the least, a harmless diversion. But the consequences for society are no less serious. Although it is not fashionable to say so in some circles, tolerance of drug use is particularly corrosive for any self-governing people.

Democracies can flourish only when their citizens value their freedom and embrace personal responsibility. Drug use erodes the individual’s capacity to pursue both ideals. It diminishes the individual’s capacity to operate effectively in many of life’s spheres—as a student, a parent, a spouse, an employee—even as a coworker or fellow motorist. And, while some claim it represents an expression of individual autonomy, drug use is in fact inimical to personal freedom, producing a reduced capacity to participate in the life of the community and the promise of America.


Two-Year Goals:

A 10 percent reduction in current use of illegal drugs by the 12–17 age group

A 10 percent reduction in current use of illegal drugs by adults age 18 and older

Five-Year Goals:

A 25 percent reduction in current use of illegal drugs by the 12–17 age group

A 25 percent reduction in current use of illegal drugs by adults age 18 and older

Progress toward all goals will be measured from the baseline established by the 2000 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse.

All Strategy goals seek to reduce "current" use of "any illicit drug," as defined by the Household Survey. Use of alcohol and tobacco products, while illegal for youths, are not included in these estimates.

President Bush has said: "We must reduce drug use for one great moral reason: Over time, drugs rob men, women, and children of their dignity and of their character. Illegal drugs are the enemies of ambition and hope. When we fight against drugs, we fight for the souls of our fellow Americans."

Sadly, many of our fellow Americans are mired in a life of drug use. The roughly 470 hospital emergency rooms participating in the Drug Abuse Warning Network give a sense of the scope of the problem—roughly 175,000 emergency room incidents related to cocaine each year, while heroin and marijuana are each implicated in roughly 97,000 incidents. According to estimates generated from the Household Survey, 2.8 million Americans are "dependent" on illegal drugs, while an additional 1.5 million fall in the less severe "abuser" category. Over time, drugs will change these people from productive citizens into addicts. We need to unite as a Nation to begin the long and challenging task of transforming them back to health.

Rebuilding the Consensus

Meeting the challenge of reducing illegal drug use will require more than just a range of targeted initiatives focused on key elements of the drug problem. It will take more than a 5-pronged strategy or a 15-point implementation plan because, in distinct contrast to the can-do attitude toward fighting terrorism, confidence has been undermined in the capacity of our public institutions—educational, rehabilitative, enforcement, and military—to fight drug use.

The easy cynicism that has grown up around the drug issue is no accident. Sowing it has been the deliberate aim of a decades-long campaign by proponents of legalization, critics whose mantra is "nothing works," and whose central insight appears to be that they can avoid having to propose the unmentionable—a world where drugs are ubiquitous and where use and addiction would skyrocket—if they can hide behind the bland management critique that drug control efforts are "unworkable."

Yet recent history shows otherwise. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, an engaged government and citizenry took on the drug issue and forced down drug use, with declines observed among 12th graders in every year between 1985 and 1992. The Federal Government supplied leadership, but so did parents and clergy, media and community groups, and state and local leaders.

The good news is that, in many cases, what worked then can work now. To make up the ground we have lost, we need only to recover the lessons of that recent past. We know that when we push against the drug problem it recedes. We will push against the drug problem; it will recede—a statement this document backs up with quantifiable, use-based goals.

Specifically, the National Drug Control Strategy will have as its objective reducing past-month, or "current" use of illegal drugs in the 12–17 age group by 10 percent over 2 years and 25 percent over 5 years. Similarly, the Strategy sets the goal of reducing current drug use among adults, those ages 18 and up, by 10 percent over 2 years and 25 percent over 5 years.

Bureaucracies are famously self-protective, but this document will depart from standard government practice by conceding that our drug fighting institutions have not worked as effectively as they should. In keeping with the goals of the President’s Management Agenda, it is our task to make these institutions perform better. Good government demands it, and it is our responsibility to future generations to ensure it.

Progress toward reducing illegal drug use has been frustrated not only by the deliberate efforts of legalization proponents, but also by well-intentioned advocates of various schools of thought concerning drug control; advocates who do not always appreciate the complexity of the drug problem or the ways in which differing drug control efforts reinforce one another.

This is partly a function of the drug problem’s wide disciplinary span, involving experts as different in training and outlook as a research scientist developing a pharmaceutical for fighting addiction and a DEA agent dismantling a methamphetamine trafficking organization. Over the years, some have advocated for an exclusive focus on supply control. Others have insisted that treatment of heavy users is the solution. Still others have argued that prevention is key.

All are partly right. What the Nation needs is an honest effort to integrate these strategies.

Reduced to its barest essentials, drug control policy has just two elements: modifying individual behavior to discourage and reduce drug use and addiction, and disrupting the market for illegal drugs. Those two elements are mutually reinforcing.

Drug treatment, for instance, is demonstrably effective in reducing crime. Law enforcement helps "divert" users into treatment and makes the treatment system work more efficiently by giving treatment providers needed leverage over the clients they serve. Treatment programs narrow the problem for law enforcement by shrinking the market for illegal drugs. A clearer example of symbiosis is hard to find in public policy.

Similarly, prevention programs are perennially appealing because they stop drug use before it starts and, in so doing, they reduce the load on the treatment system and, ultimately, the criminal justice system. Prevention programs work best in a climate where law breaking is punished and young people are discouraged from trying illegal drugs in the first place.

These different elements of our drug control program are really two sides of the same coin. In some areas, as in the law enforcement and drug treatment systems, the connection is exceptionally strong and should be exploited. As will be described later and in more detail, this linkage offers a rare opportunity to make drug treatment available to a large pool of addicted individuals.

A variant of this linkage applies equally well to the many other people with whom the drug user comes into contact, whether a sibling, an employer, or a neighbor. Treatment works. But even the best drug treatment program cannot help a drug user who does not seek its assistance. Perhaps the greatest single challenge for our Nation in this area is to create a climate in which Americans confront drug use honestly and directly, encouraging those in need to enter and remain in drug treatment.

This Strategy seeks to apply the principles articulated above in the key areas of prevention, treatment, and supply reduction. Those sections are followed by tables summarizing the President’s fiscal year 2003 budget request for drug control programs. That section is followed by a data appendix covering a range of drug-related topics, including patterns of drug use, information about drug treatment, trends in drug supply and total consumption, drug-related arrests, and arrests of individuals who tested positive for drugs at the time of arrest.

Integrating Budget and Performance

The President has committed the Federal Government to manage by results. Nowhere is the need for such management greater than in federal drug control efforts, in which coordinating the work of more than 50 national drug control program agencies can quickly become overwhelming for both the executive branch and Congress. This Strategy outlines two initiatives that will bring results-oriented management to drug control efforts: budgeting improvement and performance management.

In the past, the task of managing anti-drug programs has been complicated by the methods used to calculate the drug control budget. The budget information presented with the Strategy each year does not represent actual, managed dollars. With few exceptions, the dollars reported are not reflected as line items in the President’s budget or in appropriations acts. Rather, they reflect percentages of total appropriations for agencies and programs, with a number of different methods used to estimate the portion dedicated to drug control.

Independent reviews, some conducted for the Office of National Drug Control Policy and some by inspectors general in other federal agencies, have revealed that many of the estimation methods may not reflect accurately agency efforts. Even if the estimation techniques were perfect, the resulting numbers would still be difficult to use. Usually reflecting estimates generated after bottom-line decisions are made, these figures are not adequate for meaningful budget management in the executive branch or for deliberations in Congress.

Additionally, information is presented on a number of costs that are a consequence of drug use rather than expenditures aimed at reducing drug use. Because they do not reflect judgments about drug policy, they will be excluded from the drug control budget. These costs will continue to be reported as part of the annual report, Economic Costs to Society of Drug Abuse.

ONDCP will develop, in consultation with OMB and other federal agencies, a new methodology for identifying drug control spending. This new methodology will seek to tie all drug funding directly to actual dollars identified in the congressional presentations of drug control agencies that accompany the annual submission of the President’s budget. If a line item in an agency’s budget were judged to have a strong association with drug control, then 100 percent of this line item would be included in the drug budget.

Narrowing the scope of the drug control budget and presenting it in terms of real dollars will make it a more useful tool for policymakers. Resource allocation will become part of the decision making process rather than information reported after decisions are made.

In addition to being more accurate, the new drug control budget will focus on agencies and programs that produce measurable results. This will make it possible to improve accountability and, for the first time, will create a basis for comparing the results of supply and demand reduction activities and the underpinnings of a system for moving assets to areas of maximum effectiveness.

While all budget figures used in the Strategy are generated using the current methodology, a table showing an approximate outline of the new methodology is included in the Budget Summary chapter of this document.

In addition to changing the budget presentation, ONDCP will continue the work to bring accountability to drug control programs through the use of ONDCP’s Performance Measures of Effectiveness System, which measures the results of federal drug control programs. In so doing, the Administration will be able to make better informed management and policy decisions about resource allocation. Working from our fundamental aim—to reduce drug use in America—the Administration will measure its success, at the policy level with drug use data, and at the program level with relevant indicators. This performance management system will help direct our efforts to effective programs and point the way to improvement for programs that underperform.

The Administration is committed to accountability in government. Drug policy will be no exception. By improving the system by which we manage drug programs, we will see results.

Last Updated: July 9, 2002