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Nancy Reagan Says Drugs Hurt Childhood Innocence

D'vera Cohn
U.P.I. Washington News

March 23, 1982

Nancy Reagan, campaigning against drug abuse, quoted Merle Haggard's song about the time ''when coke was still a cola and a joint was a bad place to be.''

When she heard the song in California recently, ''I couldn't help but wish our young people's lives were still that innocent,'' she told a White House briefing on youthful drug abuse Monday. ''Unfortunately, that's not the case.''

The first lady, who began her anti-drug crusade with a visit to programs in Florida and Texas last month, pledged to ''keep the spotlight on drug abuse as long as I'm here.''

The day-long briefing kicked off a drug prevention program sponsored by ACTION, the national volunteer agency. The 130 guests, mainly leaders of corporations and volunteer groups the White House hopes to involve in a nationwide effort targeted at the family, included Melissa Gilbert of television's ''Little House on the Prairie.''

''We need you to protect America's children,'' Mrs. Reagan told the audience after lunch in the State Dining Room. ''We can't afford to lose them.''

''The White House is committed to this drive against drugs.'' Mrs. Reagan told the morning session. ''My husband's concern has grown along with mine, and I intend to keep the spotlight on drug abuse as along as I'm here. I hope you will think prevention, prevention, prevention. That is our top priority.''

Miss Gilbert, 17, who will be a public spokesman for the ACTION program, said comedian John Belushi's death this month from a drug overdose may frighten some people.

''A lot of young people looked up to John Belushi ... admired his comedic talent,'' she said.

But she said most people in Hollywood are interested in ''looking good and feeling good,'' so they avoid drugs.

The briefing featured speakers from government agencies and several of the nation's 3,000 family anti-drug groups, which will play a leading role in the ACTION program.

Mrs. Reagan and others watched wide-eyed as Sue Rusche, director of the Atlanta-based Families in Action, showed off -- among other drug exotica - a soda can with a removable top to hide marijuana and a packet of children's ''practice grass'' -- alfalfa -- that includes instructions on what to wear to drug parties.

Carlton Turner, White House drug adviser, promised a stepped-up administration effort against drugs and said government euphemisms in the past have encouraged young people to think drugs are not dangerous.

Turner said the administration will announce a five-part anti-drug program in June.

Its goals include reducing high school drug use 30 percent by 1984 and establishing a parent group in each school. Its aim also is to have literature in every family doctor's office and drug store chain, statewide drug programs in 30 states and more accurate books about drugs in every public library.

The program will promote law enforcement, parent groups and a research effort to find a chemical agent that ''will nullify or render unpleasant the effects of those drugs,'' as the substance ''antabuse'' does for alcohol, Turner said.

''You're not going to hear us in this administration talking about recreational use of drugs, responsible use of drugs or 'soft' drugs or 'hard' drugs,'' he said, adding that such euphemisms used by past administrations only encouraged the notion that drugs are not dangerous.


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