One year ago today, President Bush announced his first National Drug Control Strategy. In support of that strategy, federal spending on drugs has already jumped 50 percent since the beginning of this Administration. And the second funding phase of the President's strategy, due to begin the first of next month pending Congressional approval, would boost federal drug spending still further — to more than $10.6 billion, almost 70 percent higher than last year's level.
More money, attention, thinking, research, legislative and government action, cooperative effort, and manpower are now being applied to the drug problem than at any time in American history. In every relevant area, more work is now being done than ever before: against drug production and trafficking overseas; against smuggling at our borders; against drug crime in our streets and communities; against the medical problems of addiction; and against the encroachment of drugs into our schools and families and neighborhoods.
The logical question to ask today is: Where has this work left us? What is the status of the drug war, one year later?
It helps to remember where we were when we began. When I was confirmed for this job, most commentators — friends and critics, both — described the work ahead in almost apocalyptic terms. The drug crisis was "hopeless," "beyond control," "getting worse with no end in sight." It's fair to say that this was not simply "conventional wisdom" in the Newsweek sense of the term. It was backed up by almost every conceivable objective analysis and available statistic.
Drug cartels in Latin America appeared invincible; their profits and power and production were at a peak. Unprecedented amounts of cocaine and other drugs were flowing through our streets, at historically low prices and historically high purity. Drug-related medical emergencies had doubled, tripled, and quadrupled through the last years of the 1980s — every few months, without a break.
Truth be told, I was never persuaded that the drug problem was beyond control, nor was the President when he promised that "this scourge will stop." Late last summer, in fact, the National Institute on Drug Abuse released results of a survey that demonstrated actual declines in overall American drug use beginning as early as 1985. But even last summer, the thorniest aspects of the drug problem — overseas production, smuggling, wholesale domestic marketing, numbers of addicts and overdoses — all seemed still to be intensifying, and predictions flew that nothing the President contemplated doing could or would have any meaningful effect.
Since last summer, however, almost every piece of news and hard evidence we've seen — including those concerning the toughest specific drug problems — has told a different story. I won't bother reviewing this material in much detail right now. The latest results of our leading statistical indicators and research measures are collected and analyzed in the white paper you've been given, and many of you have been reporting this news piecemeal for many months.
Cartel operations in Latin America have been significantly disrupted. A number of major anti-smuggling victories have recently been achieved. For the first time in many, many years, wholesale cocaine prices in major metropolitan areas have risen quite sharply — doubled in some areas — and purity is down, indicating supply shortages. And hospital emergency room data — widely considered the best available indicator of trends in addictive behavior — seem finally to be showing measurable declines nationwide.
In short, last year's hopeless cause is this year's revived opportunity for victory. I think a prudent and cautious judgment on our present circumstances would be that the drug problem — in general, nationwide — is no longer getting worse, and in some very significant respects is now getting better.
Credit for progress made so far should not be at issue, and is widely shared. In broad brush, the President's Drug Strategy has enjoyed bipartisan political and funding support in Congress. Our strategy has also been joined and complemented by comprehensive and necessary state and local efforts across the country. And I would underscore once again, above all, that American public opinion has turned hard against drug use in any form, and in favor, instead, of concerted and consistent national effort toward further success in a continued drug war. Just yesterday, the Partnership for a Drug Free America released new survey research that confirms what we've already seen in our High School Senior Survey and other indicators: the turn away from drugs in American attitudes and behavior — especially among young people.
Perseverance — organized government and private-sector effort — will be the key. And easy satisfaction is grossly premature. The drug problem is still far too big. Too many communities, families, and individuals still suffer the terrible consequences of drug use and drug crime. The drug situation in too many neighborhoods has not improved, and now is precisely not the time to trim sails, reduce effort, or cut funding. The evidence of the past year suggests that progress is possible — not that it is inevitable. And so we will be looking for continued national and international support of our work. I believe we will find it. And I believe it will, before long, make a definitive difference.
" Statement of Director WilliamJ. Bennett, Office of National Drug Control Policy, Press Conference on the Status of the Drug War in connection with the release of Leading Drug Indicators, Washington, D.C., Sept. 5, 1990.