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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release September 12, 1998
                             TO THE NATION

The Oval Office

10:06 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. It's been an exhausting and difficult week in the Capitol, not only for me, but for many others. But as I told my Cabinet on Thursday, we cannot lose sight of our primary mission, which is to work for the American people, and especially for the future of our children. The most important thing to do now is to stay focused on the issues the American people sent us here to deal with, from health care to the economy to terrorism.

Today that's exactly what we're doing. I want to tell you about the latest steps were taking to combat a truly alarming trend, the growing use of drugs among our young people. The good news is that overall drug use has dropped by half since 1979. But among our children the problem is getting worse. In fact, if present trends continue, half of all high school seniors will have smoked marijuana by the time they graduate. That's a frightening development. When we know that drugs lead to crime, to failure in school, to the fraying of families and neighborhoods, we know we must do better.

We can reverse this terrible trend if we attack it in the way we did the crime problem, by working together at the community level, neighborhood by neighborhood, block by block, person by person.

Crime overall has dropped to a 25-year low now, because whole communities are taking responsibility for their own streets and neighborhoods, and because here in Washington we're giving them the tools they need, such as support for community policing programs. When we assume responsibility for bringing down crime, something remarkable happens -- crime does go down. We can have a similarly dramatic effect in curbing the use of drugs among our young people. But all of us have a responsibility to send our young people the same simple message: drugs are wrong, drugs are illegal, and drugs can kill you.

This summer my administration launched an unprecedented media campaign to ensure that the message comes across when young people watch television, listen to radio, or read the newspaper. But media is not enough. We also must enlist the efforts of parents, teachers, ministers and clergy, coaches, principals from the community of adults around them. That's why, with the support of both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, and under the direction of General Barry McCaffrey, we're extending new help to community-based groups all over our nation. Representatives of some of those groups are here with me in the Oval Office today. Already they are working to curb drug use by reclaiming drug houses, reaching out to at-risk foster kids, teaching parents to deliver the antidrug message.

Today I'm delighted to announce the first round of high-impact, low red-tape grants to 93 communities. Their dollar amounts are not large, but if these grants empower communities to do more of what works to keep young people away from the scourge of drugs, their effect will be enormous.

Now, we also need the support of Congress on other serious issues facing our country. We are committed in a bipartisan way to fight against drug use among our young people. We must similarly be committed in a bipartisan way to continue our economic growth by staying with our economic strategy that has made our country the envy of the world; by maintaining our fiscal discipline, setting aside the surplus -- every penny of it -- until we save Social Security first. We have to restore strength in growth to the world economy by investing our proportionate share in the International Monetary Fund.

All of you know that the world economy has been going up and down and changing quite a bit lately. Treasury Secretary Rubin and I will go to New York on Monday, where I will discuss the current challenges of the global economy and the risks to our prosperity unless we act on the IMF request and take some other steps designed to make sure that America does not become a sea of prosperity in an ocean of distress.

We also have to continue to invest in the education of our people. We have to have smaller classes, more teachers, modernize schools, all the classrooms hooked up to the Internet, and higher standards. We need a real patients' bill of rights. We need to protect the environment. We need to protect our democracy by passing bipartisan campaign finance reform. All these items also are before Congress now.

It is truly encouraging to me how we have put aside partisan differences to save our children and their future from drugs. We have to do that on other issues critical to our future now -- and even in the weeks before the election in November. We must stay focused on your business.

Thanks for listening.

END 10:11 A.M. EDT