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The President's
National Drug Control Strategy
March 2004


Two years ago, the President’s first National Drug Control Strategy reported the unsettling news that for the sixth straight year, more than 50 percent of 12th graders had used an illegal drug at least once by graduation. In his 2002 State of the Union address, the President set a national goal of reducing youth drug use by 10 percent within two years. It was an ambitious goal, and to many it seemed improbable in light of the string of serial increases that preceded it. Yet that goal has been met.

The most recent Monitoring the Future survey of high school students shows an 11 percent drop in the past-month use of illicit drugs between 2001 and 2003 (see Figure 1). Monitoring the Future, which measured behavior at the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades found significant reductions among all three levels.

This finding represents the first decline in drug use across all three grades in more than a decade. Moreover, it is a decline now in its second year. These remarkable survey results apply to nearly all of the most commonly used substances, but particularly to marijuana and dangerous hallucinogens. Use of the “rave” drug MDMA (Ecstasy) has been cut in half, while LSD use has dropped by nearly two-thirds, to the lowest level measured in nearly three decades.

Figure 1: Past-Month Use of Any Illicit Drug by 8th, 10th, and 12th Graders Combined

             Source: Monitoring the Future, 2003

These findings confirm the wisdom of a balanced strategy, with appropriate emphasis on treatment, prevention, and enforcement. The decline in LSD use, for instance—after a period of rapid growth during the 1990s followed a law enforcement-led disruption of U.S. supply. Declines in Ecstasy use are the result of successful prevention efforts, as the understanding of the harm caused by this drug has increased over the past two years. Finally, individuals striving to overcome their drug use often need the assistance of a drug treatment program, and we are working to make such treatment more available.

The decrease in youth drug use means that 400,000 fewer young people are using drugs today than in 2001. Less drug use means better school performance, stronger families, and fewer young people lost to a life of addiction and degradation. Fewer users mean that kids are safer and their families are more secure. When we push drug use down, we not only save lives and improve communities, we make an investment that pays dividends for years to come, because the likelihood that young people will ever use drugs plummets dramatically if they do not start using during their school years.

Figure 2: Past-Month Use of MDMA (Ecstasy), by Grade

             Source: Monitoring the Future, 2003

Among the Monitoring the Future survey’s findings:

  • Any illicit drug: Use of any illicit drug in the past 30 days (“current” use) among students declined 11 percent, from 19.4 to 17.3 percent. Similar trends were seen for past-year use (down 11 percent) and lifetime use (down 9 percent).

  • Marijuana: Use of marijuana—the illicit drug most commonly used among youth, the drug principally responsible for dependence among young people, and the drug of primary interest to the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign—also declined significantly. Pastyear and current use both declined 11 percent; lifetime use declined 8.2 percent.

  • Ecstasy and LSD: The use of the hallucinogens LSD and Ecstasy among youth has plummeted. Lifetime use of LSD fell 43 percent, to 3.7 percent, and past-year and current use both dropped nearly two-thirds. Past-year and current use of Ecstasy were both cut in half.

  • Inhalants: Lifetime and past-year use of inhalants declined 12 and 11 percent, respectively. Past-year use of inhalants among 8th graders was up 14 percent between 2002 and 2003—the only increase reported by Monitoring the Future during that period.

  • Amphetamines: Use of amphetamines, including methamphetamine, dropped 17 percent for both past-year and current use.

  • Alcohol: The use of alcohol, the most commonly used intoxicant among youth, also declined, with past-year and current use both declining 7 percent. Reports of having “been drunk” declined 11 percent in each of the three prevalence categories.

  • Impact of Anti-Drug Advertising: Exposure to antidrug advertising (of which the Media Campaign is the major contributor) has had an impact on improving youth anti-drug attitudes and intentions. Youth in all three grades surveyed (8th, 10th, and 12th) say that such ads have made their attitudes less favorable toward drugs to a “great extent” or “very great extent,” and made them less likely to use drugs in the future.


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 Survey on Drug Use and Health. All Strategy goals seek to reduce current use of any illicit drug. (Use of alcohol and tobacco products, although illegal for youths, is not captured under “any illegal drug.”)

These gains are a new foundation for saving more lives. The difference we are now making will be felt in the life of each young person not victimized by drugs, and in the families and communities in which they live. When our Nation pushes back against illegal drugs, the problem recedes.

Moreover, when fewer Americans use drugs, international drug traffickers are denied profits and power. Our international partners recognize that the United States is doing its part to drive down demand. Our allies in Latin America have shown genuine leadership in this fight. President Uribe in Colombia and President Fox in Mexico both fight drug trafficking because they understand that no country is free when it suffers from the corruption and terror the drug trade fosters.

Figure 3: Treating Drugs Like Alcohol and Cigarettes?
Current Users by Substance (in thousands)

Current Users Who are Dependent (in thousands)

          *Dependence on cigarettes is based on daily use.
             Source: National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2002

Counseling Despair

The findings are more than just good news for American families; they counter the arguments of defeatists that an engaged public cannot make a difference in the fight to protect our youth.

Those who would legalize the use of illicit drugs tend to fall back on familiar arguments, perhaps the most common of which is that we should treat illegal drugs “like we treat alcohol or cigarettes.” They neglect to point out that there are 120 million regular drinkers in the United States and some 61 million smokers (see Figure 3). The comparable figure for illegal drugs is about 20 million—a large number to be sure, but far smaller than would be the case if drugs were legal.

Although sometimes acknowledging that illicit drug use would probably rise if drugs were legalized, critics of our current, balanced drug policy also neglect to note that the greatest suffering, the greatest impact of cheap, legal drugs would be felt by the young and the poor. An especially vulnerable group is people with co-occurring mental disorders, since drug users are more likely to develop mental problems, while individuals with mental disorders are more likely to use illegal drugs than the population at large.

Some argue that the Federal Government is spending vast sums on drug interdiction and enforcement while drug treatment and education programs receive pennies on the dollar. A corollary myth holds that the goal of drug control policy is to “arrest our way” out of the drug problem, filling America’s prisons with masses of low-level drug offenders.

As the Strategy lays out in more detail, the President’s drug control budget request for fiscal year 2005 proposes to spend 45 percent of the drug control budget on drug treatment and prevention, including new funding in support of the President’s commitment to increase spending on drug treatment (the fiscal year 2005 treatment request is $2.3 billion, a 6 percent increase over 2004). The Budget apportions the remaining 55 percent among law enforcement budgets, international programs, drug-related intelligence spending, and interdiction activities.

We are a long way from seeking to “arrest our way” out of the drug problem. Only a small percentage of drug arrestees are ever sent to prison, and the vast majority of those behind bars for drug offenses are guilty of substantial trafficking, not possession. Indeed, one of the more promising trends in the criminal justice system is the creation of drug courts, which refer those in need of treatment not to incarceration but to genuine help, and which offer hundreds of thousands of arrestees the prospect of zero prison time, provided they attend counseling and drug treatment sessions. The fiscal year 2005 budget supports this policy innovation with an increase of $32 million for drug courts.

Figure 4: Drug Violation Arrests Accounted for 11 Percent of All Arrests in 2002

             Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation

According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, the median quantity involved in federal cocainetrafficking cases is 3,016 grams for powder and 62 grams for crack cocaine—more than 600 “rocks” of crack. The relevant figures for heroin and marijuana are 649 and 58,060 grams, respectively—enough, in either case, for tens of thousands of doses. The additional claim that law enforcement agencies are focused on locking up individuals for possession of, as opposed to trafficking in, illegal drugs is likewise inaccurate. In fiscal year 2001, the most recent year for which there is data, out of 24,299 Federal drug cases, there were just 384 federal possession convictions for cocaine, marijuana, and heroin combined.

Legalization proponents dismiss such facts, even as they minimize the harm drug users inflict on themselves, and on family and community. They focus instead on the supposed harm inflicted on the individual and community by the government, particularly law enforcement. Yet the cost of drug use overwhelmingly falls not simply on the drug user—although users certainly pay a high price—but also on spouses, parents, society, and taxpayers.

We invite the skeptics to attend a few meetings of a local Al-Anon chapter and listen to what families in their own communities are going through on a daily basis. They should listen closely to what has helped these families’ drug-using loved ones start to get well. As psychiatrist Robert DuPont notes, “They are unlikely to hear that the answer was more drugs in their neighborhoods.”

The President’s Management Agenda:
Budgeting for Results

The budget volume that accompanies this National Drug Control Strategy presents performance information for each of the drug control programs. As part of this Administration’s effort to integrate budget and performance, the new drug budget, first presented last year in the National Drug Control Strategy, not only ties to identifiable line items in the President’s Budget but also includes key performance information for each program. The performance information presented here was used by the Administration to formulate the fiscal year 2005 budget.

Building on agency efforts under the Government Performance and Results Act, and working with the Office of Management and Budget in implementing its Program Assessment Rating Tool (PART), the Office of National Drug Control Policy has made data on program performance central to budget decisionmaking. In the President’s fiscal year 2004 budget, programs comprising about one-third of the drug budget were assessed.With new assessments conducted for the fiscal year 2005 budget and updates of prior assessments, 45 percent of the drug budget was assessed.

The goals of the National Drug Control Strategy and its three national priorities—Stopping Use Before It Starts, Healing America’s Drug Users, and Disrupting the Market—drive the budgeting process. Each program’s effectiveness in contributing to the accomplishment of those goals helps determine its resource level. Demonstrably effective programs receive continued support. Ineffective programs and programs for which results have not been demonstrated have action plans for improvement and, in some cases, reduced resource levels.

By integrating program goals and effectiveness information into the National Drug Control Strategy, the Administration has laid the foundation for increased accountability for Federal funds and enhanced program performance.

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Last Updated: March 29, 2004