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National Drug Control Strategy
Update 2003

February 2003

  1. Stopping Use Before It Starts: Education and Community Action

Budget Highlights

  • ONDCP—National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign: $170 million. The fiscal year 2004 President’s Budget continues funding for ONDCP’s Media Campaign, which uses paid advertising and grassroots public outreach to educate the Nation’s families, parents, and youth about drug use and its consequences. Targeted, high-impact media messages—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. In a continuing effort to reach the Nation’s youth, the Media Campaign has recently undergone a significant revision and instituted a new strategy. This new strategy requires testing of all television advertising for effectiveness before airing; a shift of the youth target audience to focus on ages 14–16, the years during which youth appear to be at greater risk for initiating drug use; reduction in the number of youth-strategic message platforms from three to two, for a more focused approach; modification of the Media Campaign to focus primarily on the prevention of marijuana use by youth; more oversight by ONDCP in the creative/ad development process; and a harder-hitting ad style.

  • ONDCP—Drug-Free Communities Program: $70 million. This program assists community groups in forming and sustaining effective community and anti-drug coalitions that fight the use of illegal drugs. These coalitions work toward reducing substance abuse among youth and strengthening collaboration among organizations and agencies in both the private and public sectors, and serve as catalysts for increased citizen participation in strategic planning to reduce drug use over time. In addition, Drug-Free Community coalitions are expected to synthesize data from all available sources to better document the nature and extent of local drug problems, including the underage use of alcohol and tobacco and any use of illicit drugs and inhalants. To further the efforts of these important coalitions, the Administration proposes an increase of $10 million over the fiscal year 2003 requested level.

  • Education—Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities (SDFSC) Program: $694 million ($584 million drug related). The fiscal year 2004 President’s Budget determined that this program is ineffective, and recommends the investigation of new strategies for measuring program performance and distributing funds. The Budget makes a modest reduction in funding for this schoolbased drug prevention program, which reaches young people in most of the Nation’s school districts, until the program can demonstrate results. SDFSC funds are appropriated directly for State Grants and National Programs. State Grants provide funding to all 50 governors and state education agencies. As part of the National Programs budget in fiscal year 2004, $8 million is requested for a competitive grant program that will provide for drug testing, assessment, referral, and intervention. Drug testing has been shown to be effective at reducing drug use in schools and businesses across the country. This funding will expand drug testing efforts initiated by the Department of Education in fiscal year 2003.

  • Corporation for National and Community Service—Parents Drug Corps Initiative: $5 million. This initiative will establish a program to support and encourage parents to help children stay drug free. This program will provide matching funds to national parents’ organizations to train thousands of parents nationwide in how to reduce drug abuse and form parent drug prevention groups.

Prevention efforts are our first line of defense against illegal drug use. Such efforts hold out the promise of preventing drug use before it starts and sparing families the anguish of watching a loved one slip into the grasp of addiction. Although we face a major challenge in driving down drug use—with 16 million past-month (current) users and six million in need of drug treatment—our Nation’s strategy for preventing the use of illegal drugs has much to recommend it. The fact is that although 7 percent of Americans use an illegal drug on a current basis, 93 percent do not. Legal substances such as alcohol are inherently more difficult to control, and the numbers show it, with 109 million current users, 13 million of whom need help. Similarly, alcohol use among young people is more prevalent than use of illegal drugs.

Drug prevention programs—particularly those programs that are research-based and involve the community—are invaluable in educating young people about the dangers of drug use and reinforcing a climate of social disapproval of drug use. The Federal Government supports such programs both with funding and by supplying the best available evidence, technology, and tools.

But drug prevention makes for a difficult public policy discussion because prevention activities are not, for the most part, discrete, government-funded programs. In fact, they can best be understood as the sum of the efforts parents and communities make in bringing up young people.

Unfortunately, for too many years, the popular culture has not supported parents seeking to educate their children about the dangers of drug use and to empower them to make good decisions. In music, film, and television, drug use has too often been portrayed as glamorous and exciting, drug users and even drug dealers as free-spirited nonconformists.

Worse, well-funded legalization groups have spread misinformation about the effects of drugs. They have even insinuated to young people that drug use is an adolescent rite of passage and that adults who tell them otherwise are seeking to limit opportunities for personal growth that are rightfully theirs.

Such misinformation has taken on the force of law in states where legalization groups have pushed through a series of state referenda to legalize “medical” marijuana. Legalization lobbyists have portrayed their agenda as a representation of popular will, as though parents and communities were seeking to bring more drugs into their schools and homes. Operating with the benefit of slick ad campaigns, with virtually no opposition, and making outlandish claims that deceive well-meaning citizens, campaign proponents have tallied up an impressive string of victories.

That is, until now: in 2002, the movement lost key referenda and similar efforts in four states (Nevada, Arizona, Ohio, and South Dakota), and otherwise failed to proceed with efforts in Florida and Michigan.

The sheer comprehensiveness of the failure is impressive: losses ranged from a Nevada effort to legalize possession and use of marijuana, to an Ohio proposal that would have gutted that state’s ability to incarcerate drug dealers and provide drug treatment to prisoners, to a greatly expanded medical marijuana initiative in Arizona.

A small band of wealthy backers spent millions of dollars on various campaigns last year; their across-the-board defeat suggests something of what citizens in targeted states actually think of the deceptions they were offered. The record of 2002 also suggests that the mood of national seriousness following the September 11 attacks is less open to self-indulgent social engineering than some had hoped.

The ultimate direction of that mood is significant, and probably critical, to the success of our Nation’s drug control efforts, which, like efforts to regulate smoking and alcohol use, owe much to public awareness and an engaged citizenry. As examples, the charts on these pages illustrate the major reductions in smoking that followed the 1964 Surgeon General’s report linking cigarettes with health problems, and the imposition of federal restrictions on tobacco sales to minors in 1992.

Similarly, the data on the prevalence of drug use shows the steep reductions in use that followed the national mobilization started in 1985 by Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” campaign. Like smoking and other social pathologies, drug use is a problem that responds to societal pressure; when we push against this problem, it gets smaller.

Figure 4: Trends in Cigarette Use, 1900–2000.
Annual per Capita Consumption of Cigarettes for Those 18 Years and Over
Figure 5: Trends in Illicit Drug Use, 1974-1998. Percent Past Month Marijuana and Cocaine Users among Those Age 18-25. A line chart showing cocaine and marijuana use between 1974 and 1998 among young adults. In 1973 President Nixon declares war on drugs. Marijuana and cocaine use rise through the 70's and peak in 1979. Marijuana and cocaine use drop through the 80's until 1982 when cocaine use begin to rise again. During 1985 the
Note: Data for 2000 are preliminary.

Sources: For 1900–1974: Tobacco Yearbook, 1981. Col. Clem Cockrel. Bowling Green, KY, p. 53. For 1975–1981: U.S. Department of Agriculture. Tobacco Situation and Outlook Report. Rockville, MD: Commodity Economics Division, Economic Research Service, 1985.Table 2, p. 6. For 1982–1989: U.S. Department of Agriculture. Tobacco Situation and Outlook Report. Rockville, MD: Commodity Economics Division, Economic Research Service, 1992. Table 2, p. 4. For 1990–2000: U.S. Department of Agriculture. Tobacco Situation and Outlook Report.Washington, DC: Market and Trade Economics Division, Economic Research Service, 2000. Table 2.

Figure 5: Trends in Illicit Drug Use, 1974–1998
Percent Past Month Marijuana and Cocaine Users among Those Ages 18–25
Figure 5: Trends in Illicit Drug Use, 1974-1998. Percent Past Month Marijuana and Cocaine Users among Those Age 18-25. A line chart showing cocaine and marijuana use between 1974 and 1998 among young adults. In 1973 President Nixon declares war on drugs. Marijuana and cocaine use rise through the 70's and peak in 1979. Marijuana and cocaine use drop through the 80's until 1982 when cocaine use begin to rise again. During 1985 the

Sources: For 1974–1978: U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Highlights 1991. Rockville,MD, 1993. Table A.10, p. 78. For 1979–1998 data: U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. Summary of Findings from the 1998 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse. Rockville,MD, 1999. Table 12, p. 74; Table 13, p. 75.

Adapted from charts originally published in “Substance Abuse: The Nation’s Number One Health Problem.” Reprinted with permission from Robert Woods Johnson Foundation.

Figure 7: Trends in Alcohol Use, 1850–1997
Annual per Capita Consumption in Gallons of Ethanol
Figure 6: Trends in Alcohol Use, 1850-1997. Annual per Capita Consumption in Gallons of Ethanol. Alcohol use dropped sharply between 1919 and 1933 during Prohibition. After prohibition alcohol use began to rise again. In the early 70's the drinking age was lowered in 29 states and alcohol use continued to rise. Following 1987 when all states complied with age 21 drinking requirements alcohol use began to drop.

Notes: Alcohol consumption is measured by converting the gallons of sold or shipped wine, beer and spirits into gallons of ethanol (pure alcohol), using estimates of average ethanol content for each beverage type. Per capita estimates are then calculated per person age 15 and older prior to 1970 and per person age 14 and older thereafter.

Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Division of Biometry and Epidemiology. Apparent Per Capita Alcohol Consumption: National, State, and Regional Trends, 1977–1997. Surveillance Report No. 51. December 1999. Table 1, p. 16.

A Boost for Student Drug Testing Programs

For young people in middle and high school, drug testing programs are an effective means of identifying those in need of drug treatment or counseling—and discouraging others from ever starting. But until recently, the legal future of school drug testing programs was unclear.

In a landmark decision last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court gave a boost to schools struggling to combat illegal drugs. By upholding an Oklahoma school district’s drug testing policy, the Court cleared the way for schools everywhere to perform random drug tests on a broad segment of the student population. The decision marks the beginning of a hopeful new phase in the effort to keep our children drug free.

Previous Court rulings were restricted to the testing of student athletes. The new ruling expands the scope of drug testing to include not only boys and girls who play sports, but those who participate in any competitive extracurricular activity, from cheerleading to the debate team. Now, public middle and high schools everywhere can more effectively gauge their drug problem and direct students in trouble to the treatment they need.

The purpose of school-based drug testing is not to punish students who use drugs. If drug-using students are suspended or expelled without any attempt to intervene in their drug use, the community will be faced with a surge in the number of drug-using dropouts—a more serious problem in the long run. Of course, any effective testing program should include clear-cut consequences for students who use illegal drugs— suspension from an athletic activity, for example. But above all else, the goal is to keep students from using drugs and to guide users into counseling or drug treatment.

Student drug testing programs also function as a prevention tool, ideally as part of a comprehensive prevention strategy. 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. For many young people, simply knowing they may suddenly be called in to take a drug test provides a convenient “out,” which is often enough to make a student stop taking drugs or never start in the first place.

Reducing Drug Use Through Student Drug Testing

  • According to the Journal of Adolescent Health, a school in Oregon that drug tested student athletes had a rate of drug use that was one-quarter that of a comparable school with no drug testing policy.

  • After two years of a drug testing program, Hunterdon Central Regional High School in New Jersey saw significant reductions in 20 of 28 key drug use categories. For instance, use of cocaine by seniors dropped from 13 to 4 percent.

This Administration is committed to providing families and schools with the tools they need to keep children focused on learning, undistracted by drug use. To that end, it will devote a portion of the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities program’s national activities funds to provide grants to schools that choose to implement effective drug testing programs that include provision of treatment services for students who test positive. In fiscal year 2004, $8 million is requested for student drug testing, which will expand efforts initiated by the Department of Education in 2003.

Seeing through the Haze: Marijuana Use and the Debate over Dependency

No analysis of drug prevention would be complete without a discussion of marijuana, the drug so widespread in today’s schools that nearly half of all high school seniors report having tried it by graduation. After years of giggling at quaintly outdated marijuana scare stories like the 1936 movie “Reefer Madness,” many Americans have been conditioned to think that any warnings about the true dangers of marijuana are overblown. But marijuana produces withdrawal symptoms and is associated with learning and memory disturbances. Among youth, frequent users of marijuana are four times more likely than non-users to have physically attacked someone during the past six months. Daily marijuana smoking was recently implicated in a five-fold increase of risk for depression and anxiety among females, according to an article in the British Medical Journal.

Figure 7: Among Youth and Young Adults, a Steep Increase in Emergency Department Mentions for Marijuana

Source: Drug Abuse Warning Network (2001)


And the harm is not just to the user. Marijuana is the illicit drug most used by pregnant women and women of reproductive age; yet recent research has shown motor, behavioral, and cognitive disturbances in offspring who were exposed to cannabis in the womb. Such disturbances include findings indicative of reduced activity in portions of the brain that regulate emotion and attentiveness. In some communities, as many as 20 percent of infants are prenatally exposed to a mother’s marijuana intake.

Moreover, research has now conclusively established that marijuana is addictive. Of the 5.6 million Americans who meet the diagnostic criteria for needing drug treatment (criteria developed by the American Psychiatric Association, not police departments or prosecutors), 62 percent were found to abuse or be dependent on marijuana, according to data compiled by the Department of Health and Human Services. These are not occasional pot smokers. These are people with real problems directly traceable to their use of marijuana, including significant health problems, emotional problems, and difficulty in cutting down on use.

Figure 8: Treatment Admissions by Primary Substance of Abuse (Ages 12–17)

Figure 8:Treatment Admissions by Primary Substance of Abuse (Ages 12–17) 
Pie chart with 8 items. 
Item 1, Marijuana/Hashish 61.9%
Item 2, Alcohol with Secondary Drug 16.6%.
Item 3, Alcohol Only 7.6%.
Item 4, Cocaine 1.9%.
Item 5, Opiates 1.4%.
Item 6, Stimulants 3.4%.
Item 7, Other Drugs %.
Item 8, No Primary Drug Reported 3.9%.

Source: Treatment Episode Data Set (2000)

Parents are often unaware that today’s marijuana, with its blend of sophisticated cultivation and plant breeding techniques, is different from that of a generation ago. In 1974, according to data compiled by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the average THC content of marijuana was less than 1 percent. Twenty-five years later, potency was averaging around 7 percent, with some samples in the 30 percent range. Recent research published in the British Journal of Psychiatry suggests a 15-fold increase in THC content and concludes that “the modern cannabis smoker may be exposed to doses of THC many times greater than his or her counterpart in the 1960s and 1970s.” The Journal concludes that this “single fact has made obsolete much of what we once knew about the risks and consequences of marijuana use.”

The topic of drug treatment is handled in greater detail in the following chapter, but the implications are obvious. More than 60 percent of young people in drug treatment are there for problems associated with marijuana, and there has been a nearly four-fold increase in the number of adolescent marijuana admissions between 1992 and 2000.

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Last Updated: July 22, 2003