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Andy Rooney has joined others frustrated about the problem of drug abuse. After decades of wrestling with this problem, its continuing magnitude is shocking -- illegal drugs have killed 100,000 Americans and cost us $300 billion in the 1990s. However, Rooney and others also demonstrate a lack of understanding of both the drug problem itself and the efforts being made to reduce drug use and its consequences in America.

There is a good explanation for the four-year trend of increased drug use by our children. They no longer fear illegal drugs as much as they used to. The University of Michigan's excellent "Monitoring the Future" study has persuasively demonstrated that our children's disapproval of drugs and their perception of the risks associated with drug use both declined throughout this decade. It also shows that as a result of these declines, our children are using alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs in greater numbers.

There are different explanations for our children dropping their guard against drugs, but they all share a similar conclusion: anti-drug messages are greatly outnumbered by pro-drug messages.

It is not true that drugs are more popular today than ever. The 1995 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse found that 10.9 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds were currently using drugs. The percentage of adolescents using drugs in 1979, at the height of our national drug epidemic, was 50 percent higher.

Decisive leadership is, in fact, being provided by Washington. The 1996 National Drug Control Strategy, released by the president in April, focuses squarely on motivating America's youth to reject illegal drugs and substance abuse. More than 3,500 anti-drug coalitions address the problem.

General Barry McCaffrey, the national drug policy director, served our nation in uniform for 32 years and was wounded in combat three times prior to answering the president's most recent call to duty.

Robert S. Weiner Office of National Drug Control Policy
Washington, D.C.

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