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National Drug Control Strategy
Update 2003

February 2003


Last year’s National Drug Control Strategy opened on an unsettling note. Just-released data from the 2000–2001 school year had confirmed the continuation of a trend, begun in the early 1990s, of near-record levels of drug use among young people. More than half of American high school seniors had tried illegal drugs at least once by graduation, while a quarter of seniors were regular users. An unacceptably high percentage were regular users of drugs such as marijuana, Ecstasy, and hallucinogens such as LSD. As was the case in the 1960s and 1970s, drug use had once again become all too accepted by our young people.

In this year’s Strategy, by contrast, we are pleased to report that after a long upward trajectory, teen drug use is once again headed in the right direction—down. In fact, data from the University of Michigan’s most recent Monitoring the Future survey show the first significant downturn in youth drug use in nearly a decade, with reductions in drug use noted among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, and levels of use for some drugs that are lower than they have been in almost three decades. Such comprehensive declines are remarkably rare; they carry the hopeful suggestion that America has, again, begun to work effectively to reduce the drug problem.

Among the survey’s findings:

  • The percentages of 8th and 10th graders using “any illicit drug” were at their lowest levels since 1993 and 1995, respectively.
  • Among 10th graders, marijuana use in the past year and past month decreased, as did daily use in the past month. Past-year marijuana use among 8th graders has dropped to 14.6 percent—its lowest level since 1994.
  • With a single exception (past-month, or “current,” use by 12th graders), the use of illegal drugs other than marijuana fell for all three grades surveyed and for all three prevalence periods (lifetime, annual, and past month), although not all changes reached statistical significance.
  • Ecstasy use was down in all three grades. Ecstasy use in the past year and past month decreased significantly among 10th graders from 2001 to 2002. Past-year and lifetime rates were below those for 2000 in all three grades.
  • Lifetime and past-year LSD use decreased significantly among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, and past-month use declined among 10th and 12th graders. Past-year and past-month LSD use by 12th graders reached its lowest point in the 28-year history of the survey.

Nor are these hopeful trends confined to a single survey. The Monitoring the Future data is reinforced by other studies, including the annual survey of the Parents’ Resource Institute for Drug Education (PRIDE), which measures drug use among junior high and high school students. The simultaneous decline of teen drinking and smoking (another finding of the Monitoring the Future survey) shows that students are not substituting one substance for another, as some had predicted, but rather avoiding (and in some cases having difficulty obtaining) intoxicants of all types.

A Balanced Strategy

We have achieved the important goal of getting drug use by our young people moving downward. We now must secure the equally important objective of sustaining, accelerating, and broadening that downward movement. This time we intend to make the problem much smaller and build the structures that will keep it from growing larger in the future. Maintaining our momentum will require a sustained focus on all aspects of drug control, as well as a balanced strategy for approaching the problem. With its three priorities and clarity of purpose, this document offers both.

With regard to Priority I of the Strategy, Stopping Drug Use Before It Starts, this document recognizes that it is critical to teach young people how to avoid drug use because of the damage drugs can inflict on their health and on their future. Our children must learn from an early age that avoiding drug use is a lifelong responsibility. Where parents and educators deem appropriate, we should use programs such as student drug testing. Testing programs work because they reflect an understanding of teen motivations, giving students an easy way to say “no” at an age when peer pressure is at its peak.

Figure 1: Past-Month Use of Any Illicit Drug by Eighth, Tenth, and Twelfth Graders

Source: Monitoring the Future (2002)


Despite our substantial drug prevention efforts, some 16 million Americans still use drugs on a current basis, and roughly six million meet the clinical criteria for needing drug treatment. Yet the overwhelming majority of users in need of drug treatment fail to recognize it—a fact that would not come as a surprise to those with a loved one who has battled drug dependency. Priority II of the Strategy, Healing America’s Drug Users, emphasizes the crucial need for family, friends, and people with shared experiences to intercede with and support those fighting to overcome substance abuse. Drug users also need the support of institutions and the people who run them—employers, law enforcement agencies, faith communities, and health care providers, among others—to help identify them as drug users and direct those who need it into drug treatment. To expand access to substance abuse treatment, this Strategy proposes a new voucher program, funded with $600 million over three years, that will encourage accountability in the treatment system while making funds available on a nondiscriminatory basis to all providers—including programs run by faith-based organizations.

Priority III of the Strategy, Disrupting the Market, addresses the drug trade as a business—one that faces numerous and often overlooked obstacles that may be used as pressure points. The drug trade is not an unstoppable force of nature but rather a profit-making enterprise where costs and rewards exist in an equilibrium that can be disrupted. Every action that makes the drug trade more costly and less profitable is a step toward “breaking” the market. As the Strategy explains, drug traffickers are in business to make money. We intend to deny them that revenue.

Figure 2: Past-Month Use of MDMA (Ecstasy) by Eighth, Tenth, and Twelfth Graders

Source: Monitoring the Future (2002)


Progress Toward Two- and Five-Year Goals

The President’s National Drug Control Strategy, transmitted to Congress in February 2002, had as its goal reducing past-month, or current, use of illegal drugs in the 12- to 17-year-old age group by 10 percent over 2 years and 25 percent over 5 years. Similarly, the Strategy set the goal of reducing current drug use among adults (age 18 and up) by 10 percent over 2 years and 25 percent over 5 years.

Progress toward youth goals was to have been measured entirely from the baseline of the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, but recent improvements to that survey have created a discontinuity between the 2002 survey and previous years’ data. Although changes to the survey will permit more reliable estimates of drug use in future years, they prevent comparisons with use rates from the baseline year (2000). Fortunately, there is another survey that measures drug use among young people while preserving continuity over time. As a result, the Strategy will measure progress toward the two- and fiveyear goals as follows: drug use by young people will be measured at the 8th, 10th, and 12th grade levels using the Monitoring the Future survey, with the 2000–2001 school year as a baseline.


Two-Year Goals:

A 10-percent reduction in current use of illegal drugs by 8th, 10th, and 12th graders.

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 8th, 10th, and 12th graders.

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

Progress toward youth goals will be measured from the baseline established by the Monitoring the Future survey for the 2000–2001 school year. Progress toward adult goals will be measured from the baseline of the 2002 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. All Strategy goals seek to reduce “current” use of “any illicit drug.” Use of alcohol and tobacco products, although illegal for youths, is not measured in these estimates.

Although only the first year of the two-year goal period has elapsed, the goal of reducing current use by 10 percent among 8th, 10th, and 12th graders, as measured by Monitoring the Future, is well on the way to being met (with reductions of 11.1, 8.4, and 1.2 percent, respectively). These findings are comparable to those of the PRIDE survey, which, using a different methodology and measuring slightly different age groups, found reductions of 14.3 percent for past-month drug use by junior high school students and an 11.1 percent drop among high school students—over the same one-year period. Either way, the observed reductions are on track for meeting the Strategy’s goal of a 10 percent reduction over two years.

Given the discontinuity problem, and with no available substitute for measuring adult use ( Monitoring the Future focuses on teen use), measuring the two- and five-year goals for adults poses a different challenge. This Strategy meets the challenge by measuring adult use from the baseline of the improved and redesigned 2002 Household Survey.

The President’s Management Agenda: Integrating Budget and Performance

Over the past year, the Administration has continued to apply the principles of the President’s management agenda to the National Drug Control Program. Working with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) has implemented the budget restructuring proposal outlined last year in the National Drug Control Strategy. Additionally, all national drug control agencies have worked to enhance information on program performance and integrate this information into budget decisions. The Administration is committed to continuing this effort and integrating performance data more closely with the new drug budget.

Figure 3: The Federal Drug Control Budget 1988–2004—Constant Dollars

* President’s Request

As a result, the drug budget presented for fiscal year 2004 reflects for the first time actual resources committed to anti-drug efforts. (See Figure 3 for a brief history of the drug budget.) Rather than being based on estimates derived after decisions were made, as was the case in previous years, with few exceptions this budget reflects actual dollars identified in the congressional presentations of drug control agencies that accompany the annual submission of the President’s budget. Additionally, the budget reflects only those expenditures aimed at reducing drug use rather than, as in the past, those associated with the consequences of drug use. (The latter are reported periodically in The Economic Costs of Drug Abuse in the United States.)

Now that the drug control budget has been narrowed in scope and presented in terms of actual expenditures, it will serve as a more useful tool for policymakers. Resource allocation will become part of the decision-making process rather than information reported after decisions are made.

Making wise allocation decisions requires that policymakers have better performance data about the programs supported by the budget. To that end, in preparation for the development of the President’s budget, ONDCP worked closely with OMB to assess the results of selected drug control programs that collectively comprise 32 percent of the drug budget. The results of those assessments are presented in the President’s budget.

As we work together to expand the coverage of these assessments across the drug control budget, we will develop a new framework for integrating program results with the Strategy’s principal goal—reducing drug use.

Progress toward reducing overall U.S. drug use will be measured by monitoring key indicators and targets that are tied to the Strategy’s three priorities—Stopping Use Before it Starts, Healing America’s Drug Users, and Disrupting the Market. Each of these priority indicators in turn will be supported by the goals of the individual drug control programs.

Under the Government Performance and Results Act, each drug control agency already presents a strategic plan and annual performance plans and reports. Over the coming year, ONDCP will work with the agencies responsible for drug control programs to ensure that measures of effectiveness are in place and appropriate targets are set.

From the central goal of reducing drug use, all planning will proceed to the priorities, and from there to individual program plans. Program results will be tracked in reverse order: as each program accomplishes its objective, progress will be reflected in the priorities and, ultimately, in the central goal of reducing drug use. Where progress is lacking, we will adjust the array of programs to get back on track. Allocation decisions will be made to support programs that work and those that effectively support the Strategy.

The new drug budget and the results framework that supports it will enhance accountability in government by integrating budget and performance across the Federal Government.

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Last Updated: May 7, 2003