A First Lady's first priority

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THE interest and energy First Lady Nancy Reagan is devoting to combating drug abuse should be appreciated by all Americans. To her domestic efforts she has now added an international aspect: the two-day conference at which she was the hostess last week for wives of 15 foreign government leaders. Alleviating drug abuse is Mrs. Reagan's special issue. For years the use of illegal drugs has been recognized as a serious problem in the United States and some other countries. But still other nations, including a few represented in the gathering, have begun to address the subject only recently. The conference, which focused on shared problems and potential solutions, may provide the first ladies with information that will enable them to aid in their countries' efforts against drug use.

First ladies can have a significant effect on their nations, not only as trusted advisers to their husbands, but also as societal forces in their own right, spearheading projects in which they have special interest. Plenty of precedent exists in the United States.

It has been 16 years since Lady Bird Johnson left the White House, but much visible evidence exists of her campaign to beautify the nation's capital. Rosalynn Carter worked on behalf of the elderly, the handicapped, and the mentally ill. Betty Ford has been active in the issues of drug and alcohol abuse, and health, although much of her impact has come in the post-White House years.

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Eleanor Roosevelt started it all, being transformed during her husband's White House tenure from a shy woman to a confident and forceful advocate of social justice. Although she made a significant mark during the presidential years, her best-known accomplishments -- including being United States ambassador to the United Nations -- came after the White House.

All nations should make major law enforcement efforts to cut down the growth, manufacture, and distribution of illegal drugs. But the most effective way to cut out drug abuse is to end drug demand. As Mrs. Reagan told students, ``You are our future.'' And Americans ``need you clear-eyed and clear-minded.'' Parents, as she said, are indeed the most effective resource in the effort to end drug abuse. ----30{et

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