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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 20, 1997
                           PRESS BRIEFING BY 
                        GENERAL BARRY MCCAFFREY

The Briefing Room

1:10 P.M. EST

MR. TOIV: Hello, everybody. Just to state the rules of the road here, this is an embargoed briefing. It's embargoed until 10:06 a.m. Saturday morning; that's Saturday morning, December 20th. The subject is the President's radio address, which of course will be broadcast at that time. We wanted to save you all the trouble of a Saturday morning briefing the weekend before Christmas.

Q Thank you, Barry.

MR. TOIV: And so we're doing this now. So once again, this briefing is embargoed until 10:06 a.m. on Saturday. Let me give you some information. Our briefers are Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, and General Barry McCaffrey, who is the Director of the White House Office National Drug Policy.

Secretary Shalala.

SECRETARY SHALALA: This is the 23rd year of a study called Monitoring the Future. It's a drug survey done for the federal government, for my department, by the University of Michigan, and in fact, the person that does the study, Dr. Lloyd Johnson of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research is with us, as is Dr. Alan Leshner, Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, which is one of the institutes of the NIH.

The President's radio address has some good news. This survey surveys more than 50,000 8th, 10th and 12th graders. After years of hammering home the message that drugs are illegal, that they're dangerous and wrong, there's hope today that young people may be at least hearing some of that drum beat. Drug, alcohol, and tobacco use by young people in our judgment is still far too high, and use among 12th graders continues to rise. But what this survey shows is that after years of dramatic increases, illicit drug use may be leveling off among 8th graders, with actual decreases in the use of some drugs among 8th graders.

Now, let me say just a little bit of what that may mean. Number one, it means that our messages at least to young people, to the very young people, are getting through. We know, for instance, that very young kids are very anti-drug, anti-alcohol, anti-tobacco, but as soon as they begin to reach adolescence, they get different kinds of messages. So the fact that 8th graders are getting the message is extremely important.

Now, one of the interesting things about the fact that illicit drug use is leveling off among 8th graders is that disapproval of illegal drugs is going up among 8th graders. We know that there's a relationship between whether you think a drug is dangerous and whether you use that drug. That may seem like a simple fact, but the fact is that attitudes young people have about drugs, particularly about marijuana -- young people increasingly, until actually now, have been thinking this is a soft drug, doesn't affect me very much, isn't dangerous. What's happening is that 8th graders are beginning to get very clear messages, first from their parents, then from their teachers and from the rest of us, that these drugs are dangerous. And they're beginning to get it. And therefore, we believe that's having an impact on 8th graders.

Those two factors, perception of harm and disapproval, have been reliable indicators of future behavior. So if we can keep the kids thinking and believing what we're telling them, that these drugs are dangerous, that it will have an effect on their futures. So the 8th grade news is very good.

We don't have as good news about 12 graders, but what all of these reports tell us is it's time to redouble our efforts. We believe in this administration that parents are our first line of defense but that we need to redouble our efforts. It's very important that while we take to heart the good news of the 8th graders, we remember that we have a lot of work to do and we need to strengthen our prevention programs as well as our messages.

The President considers this a partnership between government and business and the media and schools and communities and families, but his message tomorrow will be that parents are the first line of defense and that parents sitting down with their young people having a conversation about drugs, sending young people a very clear message that drugs can ruin your health and destroy your future is what we believe will achieve even more dramatic effects in the future.

Let me now introduce my colleague in this effort, General Barry McCaffrey.

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Let me very briefly begin by telling you the President's radio address captures the results of one of the most important tools we have for understanding drug abuse and its future impact, the Monitoring the Future study. And Secretary Shalala's group, particularly Dr. Alan Leshner, National Institute of Drug Abuse, does this study, and I think it's a great gift to all of us, which the President has capitalized on to focus parents' attention on drug use by children.

Dr. Lloyd Johnson, who has done this study for 23 years now, really gives us one of the most important ways we have of seeing drug use unfold in America. So I thank you for your leadership, Donna, and your team.

Three quick observations. One is I would argue you're starting to see a pattern among these various studies. Secretary Shalala released, and I joined her household survey study several months ago. We properly downplayed its mathematical significance, but we did note that it started to talk about a change in youthful drug use patterns and attitudes. We also had Attorney General Janet Reno's methamphetamines and crack results among arrestees, showing sharp decreases. What I think we should very cautiously do as we view this result is to say, let's watch the many different competing ways by which we measure the evolution of this problem.

The second observation I would offer is that this is mathematical good news, but does not in any way state that we have seen victory over this drug problem. These are marginal changes in attitudes and drug use rates among American youngsters.

Now having said that, it is hard to understate the importance that the slope of the curve has changed. And after five years of continued inexorable increase in drug use by youngsters, in all of these age groups it either stabilized or went down. And I would argue, many of us would argue, that if you want to see the future of the drug problem in America, go to the 10-year-olds, go to the 38 million American youngsters who are just now beginning to encounter drugs in America. So the 8th grade numbers, I would suggest, are significant.

Final thought, if you would permit me, all this does, it seems to me, is suggest that in the next two years, if we work at the national youth media strategy, if we work at building community coalitions, if we enhance the role of parents and educators and ministers and coaches, then without question we will see youth attitudes change and subsequently we should expect drug use among youngsters to go down.

We're aware, as we look at the treatment statistics -- again, Secretary Shalala's people -- that the best way to handle the 3.6 million compulsive drug users in America is by focusing on drug prevention, and to not let adolescents get involved in the use of illegal drugs, particularly marijuana, the most dangerous drug in America, is a 12-year-old smoking pot.

And then in addition, we understand, you've got to keep adolescents from using alcohol and tobacco also. If you can keep them away from those three destructive behaviors, the chances of them becoming one of these poor creatures who absorb so much of our resources is diminished dramatically.

So again, Secretary Shalala and Dr. Leshner, and Dr. Lloyd Johnson, thanks very much for another insight into what's happening with our children.

Q So why is it going down? Is there a program in every school in America now that --

SECRETARY SHALALA: Well, there has been an extraordinary effort -- both in schools, parents clearly are beginning to get messages through. The President has been strongly talking about this issue for some period of time. And I think that all of us believe that what's going to have an impact is a full court press.

But I think the special focus on marijuana has helped. Both Alan and Lloyd would say that. And we've launched a marijuana initiative to particularly focus on marijuana and convincing young people that marijuana is dangerous, and convincing their parents at the same time, who belong to a generation who have a set of attitudes about marijuana because they may have tried marijuana before. So I think that what this says is efforts are working, but it also says that we have to double our efforts, that we can't take this.

Q What does the survey show for 10th and 12th graders? The good news was 8th graders, right? That showed the decline.

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Let me also add -- I've given you a background sheet -- there's a press release, some facts in here; it addresses each of the age groups in that study. And as sort of a generalization, all age groups showed either stabilization or a decrease in the change, the negative change and disapproval rates and drug use -- except, I think, inhalants, LSD among 12th graders. So basically everything leveled out or started back down. Not in a mathematically major way, but the slope changed from up to the other direction.

SECRETARY SHALALA: This is what is statistically significant. We have not made this kind of progress with 12th graders. But the important thing is that they're going to be 12th graders, and therefore, that's why it's so significant to us.

Q How was the survey made? I mean, did you go to schools and that sort of thing.

SECRETARY SHALALA: Let me have Dr. Johnson come up and describe. It's 50,000 youngsters, 8th, 10th and 12th graders. This is the 23rd year of the survey.

Do you want to describe your methodology?

DR. JOHNSON: I didn't have this gray hair when I started the survey a quarter of a century ago.

Q Neither did we. (Laughter.)

DR. JOHNSON: The methods, briefly, are that we take a national sample of schools at each grade level; send our own university representatives in to gather the data; the youngsters fill out a self-administered questionnaire in the normal class period; and then those data are gathered and sent back to the university.

Q Do you take their word for it?

DR. JOHNSON: Well, we started out skeptics; most people are skeptics about whether you get honest answers. What we found, for example, in some of the early cohorts we studied and then followed into adulthood is that as many as 80 percent of some age groups have admitted to us that they used illicit drugs of some kind. And, of course, many of those people are now the parents of the generation of young children now. But we do have high confidence in the validity of these particular data. And there are 429 schools, 51,000 students.

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Let me add one thing to the earlier question, which was why has this change occurred. Did you get the Harvard study? We're going to pass that out. Let me make sure you get a study that was just released. It was done by Harvard University and it talked about what are American parents thinking about. And it turns out now, if you ask them about children, overwhelmingly, the dominant concern is their children and drugs. And it's been that way for several years, and the rate of increase is startling. I think it's up over 60 percent now will say that is their principal worry.

So many of us believe when parents get engaged, when media attention or other reasons cause them to focus on their children and drug use, not somebody else's kids, they get engaged and the children's attitudes start responding.

Q General, can you elaborate just a bit on your statement that the most dangerous drug in American is a 12-year-old smoking pot? I would think people would probably -- I would tend to think that a 20-year-old crack addict with a gun might be more dangerous.

GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Well, right. We're about to start the national youth media campaign with lots of advice. It is easiest to focus on a young white male methamphetamine addict. By the way, that's a description of who is using meth. Or a 31-year-old heroin addict who is HIV positive with tuberculosis. But if you look at Columbia University data, if you look at other reliable studies, the way to avoid statistically becoming part of that group is get between the ages of nine and 19 without regularly abusing drugs, to include alcohol and tobacco.

But in that cohort, this study essentially says, 90 percent of this drug use tends to be marijuana. A 12-year-old regularly using marijuana -- by the way, he's probably also abusing alcohol and smoking cigarettes -- is mathematically in trouble.

Q About a year ago you both stood up here and publicly fretted about the effect of the state laws in California and Arizona allowing medicinal use of marijuana and some other recreational drugs. What has that year's experience taught you? And are you still pursuing a campaign against those?

SECRETARY SHALALA: I don't think we have anything definitive to say about drug use in California and Arizona, though we have studies in the field that will allow us to report on that. But we're not ready now. What we did was say that you send those kinds of mixed messages to young people and that's the last thing you want to do, because those mixed messages produce young people who think that marijuana in particular is okay because the officials and prominent people are saying that.

And we will report on our field studies as soon as we have them, and I don't know when we're going to have them.


DR. LESHNER: Well, we suspect it will take at least another year before you would be able to see any --

SECRETARY SHALALA: -- to actually connect teenage drug use with what's happened politically in their states. We're going to be very careful, though, about reporting that data.

Q How do you believe that attitudes change as kids go from middle school to high school about drug use?

SECRETARY SHALALA: One of the things is that parents actually in the age of when you watch your kid every minute, with a babysitter and everything else, pay very close attention, and much closer attention to the messages, and have more control over the messages little kids get than they do later on when they basically hand them over to a larger society in which kids are conscious about messages they get from the media.

So what you want to do and why this is significant is you want to hang onto those anti-drug, anti-tobacco, and anti-alcohol messages right through adolescence. And so we know that if we can hold onto those messages and strengthen kids' ability to say no to peer groups that may be pressuring them right through adolescence, they will never use drugs, abuse alcohol, or smoke cigarettes. Remember, all of our statistics in this area say what Barry said, and that is if you can keep kids from not doing these things through their adolescence, they're likely not to do it as adults. Remember the statistic I gave you on tobacco: 80 percent of adult smokers started as children. If we can convince kids not to smoke as kids, if we convince them not to use drugs as kids, if we can convince them not to get hooked on alcohol too as kids, then we can get them into their adulthood without these risky behaviors.

Q You both spoke of redoubling the effort. Is the President announcing, or will you all be soon announcing some sort of stepped up effort in this regard?

SECRETARY SHALALA: I think that Barry has just talked about the advertising campaign. I think the fact that the President is doing his message tomorrow on this subject, and in a number of ways we've expanded both treatment and messages and working with parents in this administration. And I think that it's been the full court press of us in partnership with everybody else that's had an effect.


GENERAL MCCAFFREY: Clearly, though, if you want to evaluate the connection between rhetoric and what we're doing, watch the budgets. And what we have asserted is last year we had the biggest significant increase in funding were for Goal One programs, those associated with drug use by our youngsters. And then the '99 budget, we're attempting to do the same thing. Now, you get at that program not just by federal government programs, but by supporting community coalitions, by doing locally focused media strategies. So there are a series of things going on to try and line up behind Secretary Shalala's general assertion.

SECRETARY SHALALA: But parents are the first line of defense, and that's the President's message. That's all of our messages. The greatest influence on young people in this country are their parents. So anything we can do to strengthen their role and their influence on their children is what we feel is our greatest contribution.

Q Related to that, is there any study that shows the correlation between the use of alcohol and other drugs by parents and children.

SECRETARY SHALALA: Yes. The answer is yes. And let's have Dr. Leshner.

DR. LESHNER: Let me say two things. First of all, the biggest single risk factor for drug use by young people is drug use by their parents. The second part of it is the single biggest protective factor against someone using drugs is parental involvement in the life of the child and parents talking to their kids about drugs. If you put those two facts together, the message about parents as our major tool to continue the momentum we've started, I think, is a clear one. The data are clear.

Q Are you saying -- what about a parent who talked a lot but still used it himself, but told his children not to. Do you have any kind of --

SECRETARY SHALALA: Well, let's be -- are you talking about drugs or alcohol or smoking? All of the above?

Q Drugs and alcohol.

SECRETARY SHALALA: First of all, alcohol, if used in moderation by adults, is not dangerous to the adults' future. But let's be clear about drugs and illegal drugs. We have actually worked very hard to help parents who have used drugs in the past, a whole generation that may have -- in which a high percentage may have used marijuana, for example, on how do you talk to your kid if you actually have some past drug use. And the answer is, as Barry will tell you clearly, just because I did something illegal does not mean I want my child to repeat my own mistakes -- number one.

And number two is very clearly that marijuana is dangerous. It is dangerous to your motor skills, to your memory, to your heart and lungs, and we have to -- and us beginning to have an effect on younger and younger kids to get the word out in this country that marijuana is dangerous to your health. It is not a soft drug that is an alternative to hard drugs. It is dangerous.

MR. TOIV: Thank you. And just to reiterate. That briefing is embargoed until 10:06 a.m. Saturday morning. And Mr. McCurry will be out in a little while.

END 1:33 P.M. EST