Avoid drugs, violence, Clinton tells young White House conference at Greenbelt high school beamed across the nation

March 08, 1996|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

GREENBELT -- Invoking the memory of his brother's involvement with cocaine, President Clinton implored the nation's young people yesterday to stay clear of the devastation inflicted by drug abuse and the violence caused by it.

"More and more young people seem to believe that drugs are not dangerous anymore," Mr. Clinton told nearly 3,000 Eleanor Roosevelt High School students gathered in the Greenbelt school's gymnasium for a White House-sponsored conference on youth drug use and violence. "That is factually wrong."

Though he avoided mention of his own experimentation with marijuana, the president said he had a personal stake in the issue. "I nearly lost a brother," he said. "I'm not just telling you as a president. This is not a political speech."

But having drawn criticism from Republican lawmakers who say Mr. Clinton has failed to make drug abuse and violence ffTC high-priority issue, the president took the opportunity to make a political point about steps his administration has pushed.

He touted legislation to add 100,000 officers to community policing programs, the Brady Law with its required waiting period and background check for handgun buyers, and preventive initiatives such as Safe and Drug Free Schools and the DARE program.

The conference, which drew nearly 300 people, including top administration officials, researchers and law enforcement officials, was promoted as a way to educate the public and enlist support for a "national private/public partnership to reduce adolescent drug use and violence." But it ended with no firm conclusions as to what direction the nation's anti-drug efforts should take.

Mr. Clinton did use the occasion to announce a $33 million program funded by a group of pharmaceutical companies that will distribute government-produced information to doctors to help parents recognize signs of drug use by their children.

The conference also showcased the president's new director of drug-control policy, Barry R. McCaffrey, a retired Army general.

"This is not a problem of youth; this is a problem of leadership," Mr. McCaffrey said of the resurgence of drug use and violent crimes among young people.

In an interview later, Mr. McCaffrey said the nation's drug- control policy has lacked consensus, with leaders arguing over whether to stress prevention, treatment or enforcement.

"These are noncompetitive activities," he said.

Prevention efforts should, he said, be supported "as a matter of principle." He said he favored drug treatment and follow-up for prisoners who are addicts.

The conference, beamed by satellite to more than 100 locations, also featured as panelists the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson; Lonise Bias, the mother of Len Bias, the University of Maryland basketball star who died of a cocaine overdose; and a California student, Izaak Prado, who recently left a gang and encourages his peers to do the same.

Pub Date: 3/08/96

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