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I. The Purposes and Nature of Strategy

"The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only legitimate object of good government." -- Thomas Jefferson

Drug Control Strategy: An Overview

The first duty of government is to protect its citizens. The Constitution of the United States -- as interpreted over 208 years -- articulates the obligation of the federal government to uphold the public good, providing a bulwark against all threats, foreign and domestic. Illegal drugs constitute one such threat. Toxic, addictive substances present a hazard to society as a whole. Like a corrosive, insidious cancer, drug abuse diminishes the potential of our citizens for full growth and development.

The traditions of American government and democracy affirm self-determination and freedom. While government must minimize interference in the private lives of citizens, it cannot deny security to individuals and the collective culture the people uphold. Drug abuse and its consequences destroy personal liberty and the well-being of communities. Crime, violence, anti-social behavior, accidents, unintended pregnancies, drug-exposed infants, and addiction are only part of the price illegal drug use imposes on society. Every drug user risks his ability to think rationally and his potential for a full, productive life. Drug abuse drains the physical and moral strength of America. It spawns global criminal syndicates and bankrolls those who sell drugs to children. Illegal drugs foster crime and violence in our inner cities, suburbs, and rural areas.

Drug-induced deaths increased 47 percent between 1990 and 1994 and number approximately 14,000 a year.1 Illegal drugs also burden our society with approximately $67 billion in social, health, and criminal costs each year.2 Absent effective government action, the damage to our country would be even greater. Historians have documented America's experience with addictive drugs over the past two hundred years. The ebb and flow of drug use recurred in roughly thirty-year cycles: an uninformed or forgetful public becomes indifferent to the dangers of rising drug use only to recoil at its devastating consequences. For the benefit of all Americans, the 1997 National Drug Control Strategy sets a steady course to reduce drug abuse and its detrimental consequences.

A Comprehensive Ten-Year Plan

Strategy considers the relationship between available resources and goals. As an executable plan, it offers ways to achieve ends in an efficient manner. Strategy sets the timetable for efforts undertaken and reassesses relevance as conditions change. Strategy also embodies will. With a sense of optimism, the American people dedicate themselves to the proposition that our country can become safer and healthier, imbued with the vigor of thriving communities and contributing citizens.

The National Drug Control Strategy is designed to provide guidance for the long-term. It proposes a ten-year commitment supported by five-year budgets so that continuity of effort can help ensure success. The strategy addresses the two sides of the challenge: limiting availability of illegal drugs and reducing demand. This document contains our collective wisdom for confronting illegal drugs. It provides general guidance while identifying specific initiatives. Particular programs will be reassessed annually to maximize opportunities for success, but the overall approach must be sustained. The challenge is to reinforce progress while not wasting resources on unproductive efforts. Nevertheless, sufficient time must be allotted to a program lest premature evaluation distort findings.

The National Drug Control Strategy is America's main guide in the struggle to decrease illegal drug use. The strategy provides a compass for the nation to reach this critical objective. Developed in consultation with public and private organizations, it sets a course for the nation's collective effort against drugs.

The Mandate for a National Drug Control Strategy

The Controlled Substances Act, Title II of the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970, is the legal foundation of the government's fight against abuse of drugs and other substances. This law consolidates numerous regulations pertaining to the manufacture and distribution of narcotics, stimulants, depressants, hallucinogens, anabolic steroids, and chemicals used in the illicit production of controlled substances.

The federal Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 established as a policy goal of the United States government the creation of a drug-free America. A key provision of that act was the establishment of the Office of National Drug Policy to set priorities and objectives for national drug control, promulgate the National Drug Control Strategy on an annual basis, and oversee the strategy's implementation. Congress requires that the strategy be comprehensive and research-based; contain long-range goals and shorter-term, measurable objectives; and seek to reduce drug abuse and its consequences. Specifically, drug abuse is likely to be curbed by: reducing the number of illegal drug users; preventing use of illegal drugs, alcohol, and tobacco by underage youth; and reducing the availability of illegal drugs.

Evolution of the National Drug Control Strategy

Since passage of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, seven formal versions of the National Drug Control Strategy have been drafted. All defined the reduction in demand for illegal drugs as a main focus of drug control efforts. In addition, the documents soon recognized the prevention of drug, alcohol, and tobacco use among youth as the most important goal. The various strategies realized that no single approach could rescue the nation from the cycle of drug abuse. A consensus was reached that drug prevention, education, and treatment must be complemented by drug supply reduction abroad, on our borders, and within the United States. Each strategy also shared the commitment to maintain and enforce anti-drug laws. Finally, these strategies tied policy to an increasingly scientific, research-based body of knowledge about the nation's drug problems.

Over the years, the drug strategies codified desirable outcomes as "goals." In 1996, the strategy established five major goals as the basis for a coherent, rational, long-term national effort. Subsequently, the Office of National Drug Control Policy solicited and received nationwide comments on last year's edition; this feedback informed the 1997 strategy. The resulting document is offered as a distillation of the national experience and a conceptual framework for reducing illegal drug use and its consequences over the next decade.

Elements of the 1997 National Drug Control Strategy

  • Democratic. Our nation's domestic challenge is to reduce drug use and its consequences while protecting individual liberties. Our international challenge is to develop effective programs that reduce the cultivation, production, and trafficking of illegal drugs while supporting democratic governance and human rights.

  • Outcome-oriented. A decrease in drug use and its negative consequences is the desired outcome of this Strategy. All initiatives in the strategy must serve that end. Over the course of ten years, many programs will adapt or evolve as we assess the progress that has been made.

  • Balanced. Reducing the drug problem in America requires a multi-faceted, balanced program. We cannot hope to decrease drug abuse by relying exclusively on one approach. William Bennett laid out in the 1989 National Drug Control Strategy a lesson that still applies today: "... no single tactic -- pursued alone or to the detriment of other possible and valuable initiatives -- can work to contain or reduce drug use." We can expect no panacea, no "silver bullet." We can neither arrest nor educate our way out of this problem. The 1997 Strategy presents a range of approaches that promise, when taken together, to decrease illegal drug use in America.

  • Long-term. There can be no short-term solutions to a problem that requires education of each generation and resolute opposition to criminal traffickers. Our approach must be long-term and continuous. We will marshal the resources to resist drug traffickers, manage the social trauma of drug abuse, and create the engaged, supportive, community environment needed to educate American youth. The 1997 Strategy outlines a range of approaches that promise, when taken together, to decrease drug abuse in America for generations.

  • Wide-ranging. One consequence of modern communication and transportation is a "shrinking" of the world and the nation. Drug abuse is not limited to one region of the country or one country in the world. The Strategy uses initiatives like prevention, education, treatment, research, law enforcement, interdiction, and illicit drug crop reduction to deal with illegal drug use across the spectrum of human organization. We cannot stop drug use and abuse in America while allowing traffickers to subvert other governments, establish safe-havens in some countries, or overwhelm the capabilities of local law enforcement. The initiatives in the 1997 Strategy establish a partnership among federal, state, and local governments, and with community-based organizations and the private sector, to solve common problems.

  • Realistic. Some people believe that drug use is so deeply embedded in society that we can never hope to decrease it. Others feel that the problem can be solved in short order if draconian measures are adopted. Avoiding extremes, the Strategy rejects both of these views. We can reduce drug use without compromising American ideals if we maintain adequate resolve.

  • Introspective. If the strategy is to be dynamic and successful, it must incorporate a self-assessment process. We must measure objectively the progress or failure of a project and modify tactics accordingly.

An Enduring Challenge

Drug abuse has plagued America for more than a century. To turn that negative experience around will require perseverance and vigilance. Our nation can contain and decrease the damage wrought by drug abuse and its consequences. But we will have to apply ourselves with a resolve marked by continuing education for our citizens, the determination to resist criminals who traffic in illegal drugs, and the patience and compassion to treat individuals caught in the grip of illegal drugs.

The metaphor of a "war on drugs" is misleading. Wars are expected to end. Addressing drug abuse is a continuous challenge; the moment we believe ourselves to be victorious and free to relax our resolve, drug abuse will rise again. Furthermore, the United States does not wage war on its citizens, many of whom are the victims of drug abuse. These individuals must be helped, not defeated. It is the suppliers of illegal drugs, both foreign and domestic, who must be thwarted.

A more appropriate analogy for the drug problem is cancer. Dealing with cancer is a long-term proposition. It requires the mobilization of support mechanisms -- human, medical, educational, and societal, among others -- to check its spread, deal with its consequences, and improve the prognosis. Resistance to its spread is necessary, but so is patience, compassion, and the will to carry on against its inroads. Pain must be managed while the root cause is attacked. The road to recovery is long and complex.

Decreasing illegal drug use in America is a difficult task. The 1997 Strategy provides a long-term vision that can be implemented, measured, and adapted to secure our goal. The duty of the federal government is to help communities resist drug abuse and overcome its consequences. Ultimately, each American must make his or her own decision about whether to begin or stop using illegal drugs and how to enable communities to overcome the impact of drug abuse. The National Drug Control Strategy focuses government resources to help Americans make the right decisions -- for their individual well-being and for society -- and to reduce the cancer of drugs in America.


1. National Center for Health Statistics, Advance Report of Final Mortality Statistics, 1994, Vol. 45. No. 3, Supplement (Hyattsville, Md.: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, September 30, 1996).

2. Dorothy P. Rice, unpublished data (San Francisco, Calif: Institute for Health and Aging, University of California).

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