President Sounds Battle Cry for a National War on Drugs

September 13, 1989 3 min read
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On Sept. 5, President Bush delivered a nationally televised address to unveil his plan for fighting the “war on drugs.” While much of his speech focused on proposals to intensify law enforcement and to provide new economic and military aid to South American nations where illegal drugs are produced, the President also outlined his plans for increased drug treatment and education. Following are excerpts from Mr. Bush’s speech that focus on children and the schools.

Some used to call drugs harmless recreation. They’re not. Drugs are a real and terribly dangerous threat to our neighborhoods, our friends, and our families.

No one among us is out of harm’s way. When 4-year-olds play in playgrounds strewn with discarded hypodermic needles and crack vials, it breaks my heart. When cocaine--one of the most deadly and addictive illegal drugs--is available to school kids--school kids--it’s an outrage. And when hundreds of thousands of babies are born each year to mothers who use drugs--premature babies born desperately sick--then even the most defenseless among us are at risk.

Experts believe that there are 2 million American drug users who may be able to get off drugs with proper treatment. But right now, only 40 percent of them are actually getting help. This is simply not good enough.

Many people who need treatment won’t seek it on their own. And some who do seek it are put on a waiting list. Most programs were set up to deal with heroin addicts, but today, the major problem is cocaine users. It’s time we expand our treatment systems and do a better job of providing services to those who need them.

And so tonight, I’m proposing an increase of $321 million in federal spending on drug treatment.

[In addition], we must stop illegal drug use before it starts. Unfortunately, it begins early--for many kids, before their teens. But it doesn’t start the way you might think, from a dealer or an addict hanging around the school playground.

More often, our kids first get their drugs free, from friends, or even from older brothers or sisters. Peer pressure spreads drug use. Peer pressure can help stop it.

I am proposing a quarter-of-a-billion-dollar increase in federal funds for school and community prevention programs that help young people and adults reject enticements to try drugs.

And I’m proposing something else. Every school, every college and university--and every workplace--must adopt tough but fair policies about drug use by students and employees. And those that will not adopt such policies will not get federal funds. Period. ...

As president, one of my first missions is to keep the national focus on our offensive against drugs. So next week I will take the anti-drug message to the classrooms of America in a special television address, one that I hope will reach every school, every young American.

But drug education doesn’t begin in class or on TV. It must begin at home and in the neighborhood. Parents and families must set the first example of a drug-free life. And when families are broken, caring friends and neighbors must step in.

Not long ago, I read a newspaper story about a little boy named Dooney, who until recently lived in a crack house in a suburb of Washington, D.C. In Dooney’s neighborhood, children don’t flinch at the sound of gunfire. And when they play, they pretend to sell to each other small white rocks that they call crack.

Life at home was so cruel that Dooney begged his teachers to let him sleep on the floor at school. And when asked about his future, 6-year-old Dooney answers, “I don’t want to sell drugs, but I’ll probably have to.”

Well, Dooney does not have to sell drugs. No child in America should have to live like this. Together, as a people, we can save these kids. We have already transformed a national attitude of tolerance into one of condemnation. But the war on drugs will be hard-won, neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block, child by child.

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