Ecery year the federal government comes out with a national drug control strategy, and every year it's greeted with criticism about skewed priorities. This year, according to the head of the National Office of Drug Control Policy, Barry McCaffrey, those priorities are taking a definite turn toward prevention and education. If it's borne out with funding and action, that shift should quiet some critics who have long called for more emphasis on quelling the demand for drugs.
One indication of this policy turn came in Tuesday's formal announcement of the president's $16 billion plan to combat drugs, almost lost among the same day's new disclosures about his political fundraising tactics. His drug plan calls for $175 million a year - to be matched by private donors - for national antidrug advertising. Target: America's youth, sixth-graders through high school seniors. The only way to win the battle against drugs, Mr. McCaffrey recently told a group of Monitor writers and editors, is to keep the young from ever starting the slide toward addiction.
The ads' message that drug use is self-destructive and foolish has to be reinforced by parents, teachers, coaches, and other adults that young people are close to. But getting an effective antidrug message before youngsters during their prime TV-watching hours is a bedrock element of any credible preventive effort. McCaffrey's office notes that the amount of such advertising has fallen off in recent years, and that the decline has coincided with an increase in drug use by youth. …