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National Conference on Drug Abuse Prevention Research:
Presentations, Papers, and Recommendations

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Opening Plenary Session

Keynote Address

Donna E. Shalala, Ph.D.
Secretary
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


National Conference on Drug Abuse Prevention Research

I am honored to join all of you today. Behind the research, behind the science, and behind the statistics, the work that you do every day is really about saving lives, preserving families, and building stronger communities for the future of our country.

That future begins and ends with our young people, including the young people General McCaffrey and I spoke about several weeks ago when we released the results of the 1995 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse, which was conducted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The Household Survey showed that the increase in drug use among youth that began with eighth graders in 1991 continued to climb last year.

I know that all of you join me and General McCaffrey in calling on every American to join forces to reverse this trend once and for all. As our children go back to school this month, full of hope and promise for the future, now is the time for us to make sure that drugs do not stand in their way.

But this is not the time to point fingers. We must not allow this issue to become a political football because that could send the wrong message to our children. It will make them think that drugs are an issue just for the politicians rather than something for which they have to take personal responsibility. Drugs are not a Republican or Democratic problem. They are a bipartisan problem and an American problem. Our problem. They present a challenge for all of us, a challenge that demands real leadership. And that is exactly what President Clinton has provided to the American people with the most comprehensive antidrug strategy to ever come out of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The President's plan attacks the supply side of the problem with tough law enforcement and interdiction. It hits at demand with resources for treatment, education, and prevention, and it includes a strong commitment to drug abuse research. I am proud to serve with a President who understands the vital role that your work plays in our fight against drugs, and I am proud of the strides being made every day at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Thanks to some of the world's best scientists, we have made very big gains in understanding the unique dangers posed by individual drugs and in finding new solutions to combat them. Now that NIDA scientists have found a way to immunize animals against the psychostimulant effects of cocaine, we are one step closer to finding a treatment for cocaine addiction. As part of the Marijuana Use Prevention Initiative I launched in 1994, NIDA-sponsored research continues to illuminate the dangers of marijuana. Researchers like Dr. Billy Martin have demonstrated that marijuana is addictive, and researchers like Dr. Peter Fried have shown that marijuana use during pregnancy can have dangerous long-term effects on children.

In the face of rising marijuana use among our young people, these breakthroughs in scientific knowledge do more than shed light. They have the potential to save lives. We need to educate a generation of parents, doctors, police officers, teachers and everyone else who cares about children that marijuana is a dangerous drug. Let me be clear: We need to make the scientific case, lay out the facts, and tell all Americans exactly why marijuana is hazardous to our health, to our heart, lungs, brain, and motor skills, and ultimately to our future.

But there's another critical role for research as well. We need to hold our education and prevention efforts to the very highest standards of rigorous scientific evaluation. We need more information about what works and what doesn't, and we need to bring that knowledge to every home, school, and community in America.

Over the next 2 days, you will hear more about a number of key research findings that will help illuminate how we can save our children from the scourge of drugs. Let me touch on three of the most important findings.

First, I am pleased to see that research done by Dr. Gilbert Botvin of Cornell University and others is showing the value of school-based prevention programs. From years of research we know that schools often give us the best chance of reaching the children who are most at risk for substance abuse, including children with behavioral problems or learning disabilities. This research confirms the wisdom of President Clinton's fight to save the Safe and Drug-Free Schools program, a powerful resource, and one with bipartisan roots, that serves about 40 million schoolchildren in 97 percent of America's school districts. Last year, the President used his veto pen to protect this critical initiative from massive congressional cuts. This year the Congress has proposed big cuts again, and once again we must lay down our marker and say, "No." We must make it clear that now is not the time to roll back our commitment to protect children from drugs in their schools. Now is the time to strengthen that commitment by extending a hand to parents and children to help them win this fight.

That is why I am proud to announce today a new partnership between HHS, NIDA, and Scholastic News magazine to bring even more drug education right into America's classrooms. In November, more than 73,000 third- through sixth-grade teachers will receive new materials designed to educate 2.3 million students about the dangers of inhalants, marijuana, and tobacco. But that is not all. Our program includes a take-home component that lets parents know what their children learned in school that day and asks them to reinforce that strong antidrug message around the dinner table.

That brings me to my second finding. Dr. Thomas Dishion of the Oregon Social Learning Center will present research showing that parents and families are powerful forces for preventing youth drug use. Our challenge is to put power in parents' hands and to inspire them to talk early, often, and candidly with their children about drugs. What works is parents talking to their children about drugs and at every opportunity reinforcing the core message that drugs are illegal, dangerous, and wrong. That has never been more important than right now.

In a recent survey of teens and parents conducted for the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, 65 percent of parents who used marijuana in their youth have resigned themselves to the belief that their own children will try drugs. Forty percent of these parents believe they can do little to prevent this tragedy, but that is as far from the truth as Moscow is from Maine. The fact is that children trust their parents more than any other people in the world. We have to make sure parents know this and act to protect their children.

For this reason we are teaming up with leaders such as the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) to conduct a new "Reality Check" campaign that has already given a free publication to 1 million parents to help them send strong no-drug-use messages to their children, even if the parents experimented with drugs in the past. We do not want parents to wait until their children have been exposed to drugs on the playground or at a friend's house. They need to start early, which is the third key finding that I want to amplify today.

From research by Dr. Dishion and others, it has been shown that it is particularly beneficial for young children, especially those at risk, to hear clear and consistent no-drug-use messages early and often throughout their preadolescent years. Think about some of the earliest messages kids receive from parents and other adults, the time-honored ones: "Do not touch that hot stove." "Look both ways before crossing the street." "Do not talk to strangers." We never forget them, and more important, we pass them on to our children. Make no mistake about it. Our children would fare much better as teenagers and adults if that repertoire of traditional messages also included repeated warnings to stay away from drugs. In fact, survey data from the Partnership for a Drug-Free America shows that children tend to have strong antidrug attitudes up until age 12. But those attitudes begin to erode just before the teen years as kids start to receive an assault of pro-drug-use messages from popular culture and other sources.

Let us look at the facts. In 1991, drug use among eighth graders jumped, signaling the beginning of the trend among all teens that we are still experiencing today. If we are going to move in the other direction and reduce the numbers, the place to make progress first is with the youngest group - eighth graders - by increasing their disapproval of drugs and increasing their perception that drugs are harmful. But we cannot wait until they hit the eighth grade to do that. To lower our eighth graders' drug use rates, we must start earlier, bolstering their initial antidrug attitudes and sustaining them beyond age 12 so that they do not soften their disapproval of drugs as they grow into their teens.

That is the challenge I want to bring to you today. So, how do we do that? How do we influence our young adolescents? What kind of messages are persuasive to children ages 8 to 12? Who are their role models? Who do they trust most? How do we compete and win against the barrage of pro-use messages? We need science-based guidance to answer these seemingly simple questions because the answers to them are complex. We need to take the science and these answers and translate them into action by using them anywhere that they can help us win the battle for the hearts, minds, and futures of our children.

We cannot stand still in this fight because, as we stand at the doorway to the 21st century, somewhere in America there is a 10-year-old girl who, if she stays off drugs, could become the CEO of a Fortune 100 company. There is a 14-year-old boy who learned to say no in grammar school who now dreams of becoming the next American astronaut to walk on another planet. And there is the 18-year-old girl who learned to resist drugs in sixth grade and now can set her sights on any job she wants, from the future principal of her high school to the future President of the United States.

These young people are our national hope and our national resource. With the vast promise of science and research, we can reach them better and earlier and in doing so reverse these drug trends and paint a brighter future for this generation and every generation to come. By working together, we will do just that. Thank you.


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