Radio Address to the Nation on Teenage Drug Abuse

 

January 16, 1988

 

My fellow Americans:

 

This week something happened here in Washington that makes me proud, and I expect you'll feel the same way. It had to do with a report that our Secretary of Health and Human Services, Dr. Otis Bowen, released on Wednesday. Now, most of the time government reports, with all their statistics and dry language, are not particularly interesting. But this one is different, because it has to do with something of deep concern to every American family: attitudes about drug use among America's young people.

 

For each of the last 13 years, the Government has surveyed America's graduating high school seniors. Every year thousands of seniors in hundreds of schools across America have been asked about the drugs they've used and about what they think of drug use. For many years, what we found out proved pretty discouraging. In the seventies students told of ever more frequent drug use. Many of them said that some drug use, even drugs like cocaine, was okay, nothing to be afraid about. We had a drug epidemic, and too often our national leaders, in government and the media, didn't seem to care.

 

Drug use, some said, was a victimless crime. No one got hurt. No one suffered. So, what was the big deal? Well, I've often thought that this message that drugs weren't all that bad was part of a larger message. The same people who winked at us about drugs also told us that America's future was bleak. Too often they said that the traditional values of family and community were old fashioned and out of date. It was as if they'd lost faith in the future and wanted the rest of us to lose it, too.

 

But in communities around America, families, teachers, and young people themselves were finding out that those who said drug use was no big deal, whether they knew it or not, were telling a big lie -- and a dangerous one. Just how dangerous we all saw 2 years ago when a promising athlete, a young man whose future could have been written in headlines and in gold, died of a cocaine overdose. Len Bias never got to play professional basketball. But today his mother says that his death may have been a message from God to America's young people: Stay away from drugs -- all drugs -- all the time.

 

Well, as you know, others have carried that message, too. For 6 years now, Nancy has been traveling around the country spreading the word. On one trip out West, a student asked her how to turn away from drugs when they were offered. She replied: ``Just say no.'' Since then, thousands of Just Say No clubs have been started in schools around the Nation. Students got the message, in many cases, long before adults.

 

That brings me back to the report I was telling you about. Maybe you've heard the best news in it already. Last year for the first time since the surveying began, a substantially smaller proportion of high school seniors -- one-third smaller -- acknowledged current use of cocaine than acknowledged it the year before. But that's not all.

 

Students are no longer buying the old line that experimenting with cocaine and other illegal drugs is safe. For many years, only about a third of them said that using cocaine once or twice was dangerous. Last year almost half did, and nearly 90 percent said regular use was dangerous. And cocaine use is no longer the ``in'' thing. In fact, almost all the seniors surveyed -- 97 percent -- disapproved of regular cocaine use. And whether they thought one or two experiments dangerous or not, 87 percent disapproved of even trying cocaine. Use of marijuana and amphetamines is also dropping. More than 10 percent of the members of the class of 1978 said they used marijuana daily. In the class of 1987, it was only about 3 percent, still too many, but much better than it was. And more than 70 percent -- more than ever have before -- say that regular marijuana use is harmful.

 

So, the message is out, and America's young people have heard it: Drugs hurt, drugs kill, drug use is nothing to brag about, stay away from drugs. A few minutes ago, I said all this makes me proud. Well, the one thing I've found you can always count on is that when we Americans get a message and decide to do something -- watch out -- there's nothing that can stop us! I'm proud, as I know you are, of Nancy and of the many adults who've worked against this plague. But most of all, and I know also you join me in this, I'm proud of millions of young Americans who -- one by one, or together with their friends -- just say no to drugs.

 

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

 

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, MD.