NANCY REAGAN was right. The public got cranky and tired of her "Just Say No" drug crusade, especially as marijuana use among American teen-agers dropped during the 1980s.
But as a new federal report indicates that teen drug use has doubled since 1992, Americans of all political stripes have to agree that the public ardor against drug abuse has waned. It is not particularly Bill Clinton's fault, nor Bob Dole's (who led a Congress that has repeatedly threatened to cut drug education spending.) A nation known for its short attention span just moved onto other fronts: drunken driving, teen smoking, teen pregnancy.
It's the Clinton generation, not the Clinton administration, that may be soft on drugs. Social workers sense that Baby Boomer parents are more permissive about marijuana.
The admission of various news makers that they once smoked pot -- President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, HHS Secretary Donna Shalala, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, GOP convention keynoter Rep. Susan Molinari, White House spokesman Mike McCurry -- speaks to the coming-of-age of a generation for which drug use was "recreational." Today's teens mimic their parents' youth, from re-popularizing Woodstock-era music, to tie-dye fashions, to seeing their own rock idols overdose, to the drug use.
"We're trying to tell parents it's not 1969," says Michael M. Gimbel, director of the Baltimore County Office of Substance Abuse. "You've got designer drugs, violence, AIDS, more money, more cars. The dangers are so much greater." His county's chapters of Students Against Drunken Driving are about to change their name to Students Against Destructive Decisions, to reflect the need for increased vigilance against multiple evils.
Teen drug use is still down 50 percent from 1979, and use among people older than 18 remains low. But the curve for youth is headed back in the wrong direction. More money and emphasis need to return to campaigns such as "Just Say No" and into programs that help teach young people how to do just that.
Pub Date: 9/09/96