Public Papers of Ronald Reagan, 1986

Author: Ronald W. Reagan  | Date: July 30, 1986

Remarks at a White House Briefing for Service Organization
Representatives on Drug Abuse
July 30, 1986

Thank you, Charlie, and thank you all for being here today and for all that you’re doing to help America. Drug abuse has been a major concern of Nancy’s and mine, as you’ve just been told, dating back to a time long before we came to the White House. Our concern, of course, was not shared by everyone. And during the late 1960’s and into the last decade, a flippant and irresponsible attitude toward drug use permeated too much of our society. The gurus of hedonism and permissiveness were given a respectable hearing back in those days; the heartache and misery came along later.

Pundits and commentators have said a great deal about the positive changes that America has gone through these last 5 1/2 years. I think one of the most heartwarming-and one of which I am exceptionally proud—is the change in attitude toward drugs. I’m particularly proud of the role that Nancy has played in this. As you probably know, she’s made the fight against drug abuse a national crusade. From one line that she used out in Oakland, California, answering a young person’s question when she was speaking to them about what to do about it—and she said, "Just say no." And today Just Say No is a nationwide organization of young people that are pledged to say, "Just say no."

Well, just the other day in a Cabinet meeting, Secretary [of State] Shultz told me something that we hadn’t been aware of: that how often foreign ministers praise her for the work she’s doing and the example that she is setting. And all of this came from a idea she had—and ladies, you can be proud—she decided to have some meetings of the First Ladies from a number of other countries. And they picked up the baton there and have been doing it ever since.

And I had the exciting experience at one of the recent economic summits with our major allies to mention something of this kind, tell them that she had sent greetings to their wives, and so forth. And all of a sudden, a certain lady Prime Minister spoke up and said, "Well, what are we doing? Why don’t we start in?" And it suddenly became on the agenda of the economic summit. But because of people like her and these people that I’ve just mentioned, a new and dynamic consensus is emerging. The good and decent people of this country and, yes, as I say, the world now are coming together in active opposition to the evil of drug abuse. More and more people are realizing how crucial it is to deal with this insidious problem. Those who smuggle and sell drugs are as dangerous to our national security as any terrorist or foreign dictatorship.

In 1981 we began our efforts to mobilize America against this danger. We operated under the assumption—and I remain convinced this is true—that a major effort to stop drugs from flowing into the country is only one element in an overall solution. As with most perplexing problems, to rely totally on government is to fall prey to an illusion. What we need is the development of private sector initiatives—community-based solutions to the drug problem. Commitment from the men and women and children of this country, from businesses, labor unions, sports and public figures, and civic groups, to get tough and to get involved is a prerequisite for success.

Nancy recently said that—and I’ll quote: "We must create an atmosphere of intolerance for drug use in this country." Well, I don’t think I can say it any better than that. The time has come to give notice that individual drug use is threatening the health and safety of all our citizens. We must make it clear that we are no longer willing to tolerate illegal drugs or the sellers or the users. Our object is not to punish users but to help them; and not to throw them in jail but to free them from dependency; not to ruin their lives by putting them behind bars but to prevent their lives from being ruined by drugs.

The first step, of course, is making certain that individual drug users and everyoneelse understand that in a free society we’re all accountable for our actions. If this problem is to be solved, drug users can no longer excuse themselves by blaming society. As individuals, they’re responsible. The rest of us must be clear that, while we are sympathetic, we will no longer tolerate the use of illegal drugs by anyone. The time has come for each and every one of us to make a personal and moral commitment to actively oppose the use of illegal drugs, in all forms and in all places. We must remove all traces of illegal drugs from our nation.

You and your organizations, not only in the United States but internationally, can be proud that you’re leading the way in this noble endeavor. I simply don’t have ample opportunity here and now to mention all of your organizations and all that you’ve done, but I must mention a few.

The Lions Clubs, of which I’m—happen to be a lifetime member, met with me in 1982. You made your antidrug program a priority and went to work not just in the United States but in 155 different countries. The Kiwanis Clubs—you’ve been terrific with the work that you’ve done with Nancy and your billboard campaign. The Elks-you have 1 1/2 million people involved in fighting drug abuse. I also want to applaud you for helping the people of Oregon fight a misguided minority that would legalize marijuana. That would be the worst possible message to send to our young people. You might be interested to know that Nancy, in speaking to young people in schools and so forth, treatment centers, asks them about that. And you’d be amazed; the kids are ahead of us. They almost all together shout, "No, don’t do that!" The Junior League-your Gate program to educate the young people of this country is exemplary. The Girl Scouts—your new patch for drug education and prevention is a good example of what can be done. I can’t tell you how appreciative we are, here, of your efforts.

All of you and your magnificent organizations in many ways represent the best hope for America’s youth. John Locke, a great intellectual whose ideas greatly affected those who laid the philosophical foundation of American freedom, once wrote: "A sound mind in a sound body, is a short but full description of a happy state in this world." Well, our goal is to make certain that illegal drugs do not deprive any American of a happy state of sound mind and body. I want each of you and the members of your organizations to know how much Nancy and I and your fellow citizens appreciate what you’re doing.

We have a long way to go. But there’s ample room for optimism. International cooperation is increasing. This is no longer looked at as just a problem for the Americans. And you’ve already heard from my good friend Charlie Wick on what’s going on in the international arena. Nevertheless, we must continue to prove we mean business at home. And now is the time to show drug users that we mean to reach our goal of a drug-free generation in the United States.

I know you have myriad demands on your time. And everyone seems to have a pet project they would like your help on. Well, there’s no doubt about our pet project and no doubt as to how seriously we take our commitment. We’ll do everything in our power to achieve our goal. And I’d like to call on you to help us out. Go back to your organizations and have your membership work towards drug-free schools. Our children deserve no less. Get your local television stations to air public service announcements-and I mean at a time when most people are watching TV, not burying them in the middle of the night with reruns of "Bedtime for Bonzo." [Laughter]

By the way, I’ve been asked at times what it is like to sit and watch the late, late show and see yourself; and I have one answer. It’s like looking at a son you never knew you had. [Laughter]

Talk to your local and district prosecutors about getting tough on the lowlifes who are selling drugs to our kids. Talk to your local religious leaders about what they can do about drug abuse. This is a moral as well as a health and safety issue. Meet with the business and labor leaders in your community. You may find that many are working on getting drugs out of the working place. You have much in common. And lastly, set up a partnership; get others involved in this fight. Now may be the time for communities across America to launch an offensiveagainst drugs. In Boston, for example, the Boston Herald, the electronic media, the Bank of Boston, the police, and the sports teams are launching a longtime effort to fight drug abuse. I can’t tell you how strongly Nancy and I feel about getting you involved in reaching these goals. We need your help, and I hope you’ll take me up on the challenge.

You should know that I’ll be inviting each of your organizations back to the White House i year from now so that I can hear about the progress you’ve made, the programs you’ve established, and any results you’ve achieved in your communities as well as internationally. As I said earlier, please pass on my thanks to all your members who are doing much to make this the kind of country and the kind of world that God intended it to be.

And one last thought: We’ve been talking about what you’ll be doing. Well, I’ll announce what I’ll be doing. And now is the time for everyone to do their part. The only thing that remains for me to say now is thank you, and God bless you all for what you are doing. Thank you for being here.

NOTE: The President spoke at 11:29 a.m. in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. He was introduced by Charles Z. Wick, Director of the United States Information Agency.


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Chicago: Ronald W. Reagan, "Remarks at a White House Briefing for Service Organization Representatives on Drug Abuse," Public Papers of Ronald Reagan, 1986 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Ronald Reagan, 1986 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1164 1023–1024. Original Sources, accessed July 24, 2024,

MLA: Reagan, Ronald W. "Remarks at a White House Briefing for Service Organization Representatives on Drug Abuse." Public Papers of Ronald Reagan, 1986, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Ronald Reagan, 1986 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1164, pp. 1023–1024. Original Sources. 24 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Reagan, RW, 'Remarks at a White House Briefing for Service Organization Representatives on Drug Abuse' in Public Papers of Ronald Reagan, 1986. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Ronald Reagan, 1986 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), P.1164, pp.1023–1024. Original Sources, retrieved 24 July 2024, from