Kids and Drugs

Very little about the recently released National Household Drug Survey is encouraging. Overall drug use nationwide remained flat from 1994 to '95, but the study shows a 105 percent increase in teenage drug use since 1992. The statistics on marijuana are most troubling: Since 1992, marijuana use among 12- to 17-year-olds has risen 141 percent.

Not surprisingly, Bob Dole has laid the blame for such dismal statistics at the president's feet. To be sure, Mr. Clinton's handling of the "war on drugs" has been far from perfect. In 1993 he cut the White House drug-control office staff by 80 percent. Yet Congress has rejected administration efforts to increase funds for some antidrug education programs.

The administration, most embarrassed by the statistics, claims finger-pointing doesn't do anything to protect children - and it's right. A nonpartisan approach is imperative.

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National drug-control policy director Barry McCaffrey appears to be moving in the right direction. He says his first goal is to reduce teen drug use through prevention and treatment. Prevention, in particular, is crucial. Experts say young people aren't getting the strong antidrug message they were given a decade ago.

It will take time - at least 10 years, in McCaffrey's estimation - to bring the drug-use statistics back down to pre-Vietnam levels. Parents will play a key role in this effort. Keeping children away from alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs should be a top priority.

Clinton's recent action on the drug front is belated and impelled by politics, but is welcome nonetheless. His strategy calls on states and community organizations to help develop national prevention standards and encourages schools to adopt drug-prevention plans. It also focuses on curbing teens' use of alcohol and tobacco. To that end, Clinton recently declared nicotine an addictive drug subject to regulation and imposed limits on tobacco use by minors and on advertising aimed at them.

The administration is now indicating it may compromise on the nicotine issue, but will stand firm on advertising restrictions. A firm stand is needed on all fronts. The link between youth and addiction must be broken, and tobacco is a logical starting point.

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