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Strategy's Rhetoric Aimed at Youth Drug Use; $16 Billion Budget Still Favors Interdiction and Enforcement


March-April 1997

The 1997 National Drug Control Strategy, the language of which emphasizes the prevention and treatment of illegal drug abuse, continues to favor appropriations for law enforcement and interdiction. In the strategy released on February 25 by the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONCDP), President Clinton requested $16 billion for fiscal year (FY) 1998, an increase of $818 million (5.4%) from FY 1997 and a sixfold increase since FY 1985 ("Increase of 5 Percent Proposed For Anti-Drug Budget in FY 1998," Drug Enforcement Report, February 24, 1997, p. 1; James Bennet, "President Unveils a $16 Billion Plan to Combat Drug Use," New York Times, February 26, 1997, p. A22; Joe Davidson, "Drug-Control Budget Stresses Interdiction," Wall Street Journal, February 26, 1997, p. B2; Angie Cannon, "Clinton outlines anti-drug strategy," Star Ledger (Newark), February 26, 1997, p. A9; Reuters, "$16 billion asked for drug fight," Chicago Tribune, February 26, 1997; "Clinton Adm'n Proposes 9-11% Increase for Research Institutes, Drug Education, in FY98," Drugs and Drug Abuse Education Newsletter, March 1997, p. 1).

Noting that adolescent drug use has increased every year since 1991, the strategy's primary goal is to "educate and enable America's youth to reject illegal drugs as well as alcohol and tobacco." Four other goals specified in the strategy developed by General Barry McCaffrey, director of ONDCP, one year ago based on a Gallup poll are: 1) Increase the safety of America's citizens by substantially reducing drug-related crime and violence. 2) Reduce health and social cost to the public of illegal drug use. 3) Shield America's frontiers from the drug threat. 4) Break foreign and domestic drug sources of supply.

Specific Administration highlighted initiatives and budget requests include:

Drug testing minors who seek their driver's license still exists as one of Clinton's youth oriented initiatives, notwithstanding its emergence as a reelection campaign promise. Such a program is justified as a deterrent to youth drug use and will be used to "identify youth who should be referred to drug assessment and treatment." However, no funds are sought for this "program." (See "President Clinton Calls for Drug Testing Minors Seeking Their Driver's License," NewsBriefs, November 1996.) In a related issue, state incentive grants are conditioned on enactment of state laws, such as making it illegal to drive with a detectable amount of illegal drugs in the driver's blood (Thomas Farragher, "Clinton to seed drug testing for driver's license," Philadelphia Inquirer, February 13, 1997, p. A2; Thomas Farragher, "TV, driver's licenses may fight teen drugs," Houston Chronicle, February 13, 1997, p. 14A.)

As part the "initiative" to reduce drug-related health and social problems, the strategy claims to emphasize treatment of America's addicts. "For 3.6 million Americans caught in the grip of addictive drugs, we are committed to providing opportunities to recover," the strategy states, adding that it "is a compassionate and economically-sound proposition." The strategy cited a 1992 California Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs study, California Drug and Alcohol Treatment Assessment (CALDATA), that showed treatment can generate a seven to one return on investment, a 40% decrease of illegal drugs use by participants, a reduction by one-third in hospitalization rates after treatment, and a two-thirds reduction in criminal activity after treatment completion. The 1996 National Treatment Improvement Evaluation Study showed similar conclusions. "We believe we can get a better return from our investment in treatment than in new jail cells," said James McDonough, a former U.S. Army planner who is the strategic planner for the ONDCP.

Other "initiatives" include developing anti-cocaine medications, expanding drug-free workplace programs (drug testing), and reducing infectious disease transmission. However, the strategy fails to mention needle exchange programs, which were modestly endorsed by Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and enthusiastically endorsed by an expert panel at the National Institutes of Health just days before the drug strategy was released.

The strategy says the metaphor of a "war on drugs" is misleading (pp. 5-6). "The United States does not wage war on its citizens, many of whom are the victims of drug abuse. These individuals must be helped, not defeated." The strategy says "a more appropriate analogy for the drug problem is cancer, which requires the mobilization of support mechanisms," "resistance," "patience" and "compassion." At the strategy's release, Clinton said that "often people who use illegal drugs are people who go to class or hold jobs or have families," rather than characterizing drug users as the enemy (Roberto Suro, "Drug Control Strategy In Midst of a Makeover," Washington Post, March 2, 1997, p. A11.) (The language in the strategy was chosen to shift the rhetoric in the federal government's anti-drug effort. These are hollow statments considering that 1.47 million people were arrested in 1995 for drug law violations (75.1% for possession), and that at midyear 1996, there were 1,630,940 offenders in federal and state prisons, and jails, an enormous percentage of whom are drug addicts or alcoholics in need of treatment - EES.)

Despite the rhetorical emphasis on demand-reduction, critics point out that two-thirds ($10 billion) of the budget is allocated to supply side measures such as law enforcement and source-country interdiction, while only one-third ($6 billion) is allocated for demand reduction measures such as education and treatment. "That is the same proportion that has governed the federal drug budget since the late 1980s," said Mathea Falco, president of Drug Strategies, a non-profit research institute in Washington, D.C. "A strategy is only as good as the resources made available to it," said James Copple, president of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America. U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) agreed, "There really ought to be more money for education and therapy."

Budget Request
(in billions)
% Change from FY 1998 % of Total Budget

Criminal Justice

$8.12 +3.7% 51%


$3.0 +6.9% 19%


$1.92 +16.3% 12%


$1.61 -1.8% 10%


$0.67 +6.6% 4%

International Efforts

$0.49 +8.4% 3%


$0.16 +8.9% 1%

The strategy mentions the legalization of drugs. One of the objectives to "educate and enable America's youth" is to "support and disseminate scientific research and data on the consequences of legalizing drugs" (p. 34). The rationale is that "drug policy must be based on science not ideology. The American people must understand that regulating the sale and use of dangerous drugs makes sense from a public health perspective." [Emphasis added] In a section called "Countering Attempts to Legalize Marijuana," the strategy states that "our medical-scientific process should not close the door on any substance that could have therapeutic uses" (pp. 58-59).

The various drug control appropriations must be approved by Congress and will not take effect until October 1, 1997. The strategy promises that a performance measurement system that will guide the strategy will be place by October 1997. Clinton also announced a White House Mayors Conference on Drug Control to bring together mayors, police officers and prosecutors and is scheduled for May 21, according to the Knight-Ridder report.

On February 25, NDSN organized a press conference at the National Press Club to respond to the strategy. Speakers included the ranking Democratic member of the House Judiciary Committee, U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), as well as Larry Birns, Director, Council on Hemispheric Affairs; David Borden, Director, Drug Reform Coordination Network; Rear Adm. Eugene Carroll (USN Ret), Deputy Director, Center for Defense Information; William Chambliss, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, George Washington University, past president, American Society of Criminology; Rev. Dr. Andrew L. Gunn, St. Luke's United Methodist Church, President, Clergy for an Enlightened Drug Policy; Mark Kappelhoff, Legislative Counsel, ACLU; Clarence Lusane, Ph.D., Asst. Professor, Medgar Evers College (NY); Marc Mauer, Associate Director, The Sentencing Project; Vincent Schiraldi, Director, Justice Policy Institute; Chuck Thomas, Director of Communications, Marijuana Policy Project; Arnold Trebach, Ph.D., President, Drug Policy Foundation; Coletta Youngers, Senior Associate, Washington Office on Latin America; Kevin Zeese, President, Common Sense for Drug Policy; and Southern Christian Leadership Conference Rev. James Moone, Executive Director, Maryland SCLC. It was moderated by Eric E. Sterling, President of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. "Whether you ask ... police chiefs or the general public, everyone agrees the national drug control policy is an overall failure," Sterling said. The press conference was covered by Reuters, CBS-TV, NBC-TV, ABC-TV, and the Newshour (PBS).

"The National Drug Control Strategy, 1997," Office of National Drug Control Policy, Executive Office of the President, February 1997, is located on-line at or can be obtained by contacting the ONDCP Drugs & Crime Clearinghouse at (800) 666-3332.