Public Papers

Remarks at the Veterans' Administration Hospital in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania


Thank you all very, very much. Thank you very much. Dr. O'Brien, to you and Dr. Woody, thanks for greeting me. And to all the others, medical doctors and Ph.D.'s that we just rubbed elbows with, thank you for the quick education course we've had.

I want to salute our Secretary who heads the Veterans' Administration, the first Cabinet officer now that the vets are in the Cabinet, Ed Derwinski, with whom I served in the Congress for many years. Director Bob Martinez, the former Governor of Florida, came in, and we'll talk a little bit about the numbers. But far more important than that, because we've got a long way to go as Dr. O'Brien said, is the dedication that he's bringing to this job. And it's not simply on interdiction; it's not simply on treatment. It's across the whole sphere of the drug problem. And so, I salute him for that.

And of course, to my old colleague, Larry Coughlin, who is your Congressman, I thank him not only for being here, but for his interest in all of this work including the Veterans' Administration side of it, as well as the fight on antinarcotics that goes beyond the veterans.

Let me simply thank those who were patients here and now being consulted, the consultors and consultees, for giving of their time.

I think Dr. O'Brien was rather kind about all this because I worry about this kind of thing when you come here. Is it going to be considered just show business? Are we just trying to get what they call the basic photo op, or maybe get one of these cameras so you'll be on the 6 p.m. evening news? And that really, I'd like you to believe, is not what my interest is all about. I am interested, but I learned both from the consultors and the consultees a few minutes ago that I've got an awful lot still to learn. And I was very impressed with the quality of the work that I see here in this great institution.

I'd been briefed ahead of time before climbing off of that helicopter about the marvelous resources that you have here, human resources. And once again, as I told the patients or those that were being treated, it's not easy to get up in front of anybody; maybe the President's a little more complicated, too. I don't know. But they confessed to a little nervousness. But for those of you that were not privileged to hear them, they were good. Right from the heart, called it directly. And I'll tell you, I learned a lot just from this short visit. And I'm grateful to each and every one of you. And to those that had to put up with the logistics and the security and all of that, we promise to leave right on time. [Laughter]

Now, in '89 we introduced what was the first national drug control strategy. And at the time, the drug epidemic had incited a fear, and certainly a despair, even rage among Americans. I think that that strategy did set forth clear goals. And we tried to rally Americans to fight back. Many of you have been doing that for years, but wanted to get the Government behind this national strategy.

We look back now on 2 years of intensive work. We can survey with pride the accomplishments that many of you have made, that collectively we as a people have made, and we look forward to the victories that I'm certain lie ahead.

Recent National Institute on Drug Abuse figures show that over an 18-month reporting period, overall drug use in the United States fell an estimated 11 percent. Cocaine use fell even more dramatically, occasional use dropped 29 percent. And the number of cocaine-related casualties in emergency rooms fell 23 percent.

So, this is good news. There's no question about that. We ought not to deny you your part in it. But as Dr. O'Brien just impressed on us, we're just beginning. Let's face it, most of the difficult work still lies ahead. We continue to disrupt the drug flow through, I think, improved interdiction efforts, trying to keep it from coming to our shores. But we can never fully control our long borders. We're a free country, and we have free going to and froing from our neighbors to the north and south. And thank God we do. We're blessed by peaceful neighbors with no intentions against one another. But that does present, in these terms of open borders, a problem. And we've discouraged drug use by imposing tough penalties on those who distribute drugs. But in the end, we can win the drug war only by winning the wars that rage within the hearts of those who abuse drugs.

We can't move too soon because drug abuse does threaten everybody. And it destroys the very fabric of our society. It rips families apart.

No one can tally the costs that hardcore drug users impose upon us all. I'm sure there are estimates out there. But you've got to throw in the violent crime, the broken families, the accidents, the disease and disability and death, the energy drained from the nobleness of our society, the wretched fate of the 100,000 drug-exposed babies that are born each year.

While we urge those who do not use drugs not to start, drug treatment programs can help save those who have been overcome by their addiction. And if ever there was a lesson that I've learned today, it's just exactly that. And once again, my gratitude to all involved. These programs can reduce the toll that drugs exact. Day in and day out, drug treatment professionals like you, all fight this war for human life and dignity. You win the battles; that's one soul at a time.

Here in this center, I've seen that drug treatment can work. Drug use falls by more than 70 percent among those that are treated here I'm told. Your patients are three times more likely to be employed than are drug abusers who receive no treatment, and only one-fourth as likely to go out and commit crimes.

The human stories tell even more. They tell of the long, arduous, agonizing journey back to a whole life. A journey that, regrettably, not everyone completes. These stories show that only those who take responsibility for their actions and their own lives can enjoy real dignity.

Nothing here comes easily to you or your patients. But you ought to be proud. You combine the best in treatment: medical, social and psychological, with this innovative research that Dr. O'Brien talked about in these introductory remarks. You've created precisely the kind of treatment center that we talk about in this national drug control strategy: stressing personal responsibility, determining what works, and building a record of success.

So, if my visit here does nothing else, I hope that the message gets out that what you're doing can serve as a great example for others all across our country.

This clinic began working years before this Nation had such a strategy. You were the pioneers before people really even focused on drugs as a major problem. For 20 years, you've developed new information about the nature and the treatment of addiction. And hundreds of thousands of patients across the country have benefited as a result.

For the last 3 years, the Federal Government has been able to give you additional research funds, all from the budget for the war against drugs. I know that you could use more. Dr. O'Brien very frankly mentioned that earlier on in a very subtle way. My arm is now out from under the -- -- [Laughter] This guy's a real gentleman, but he's a hell of a salesman, too. [Laughter] I got the message out there.

But the Federal Government wants to help, limited resources, of course, in whatever field for medicine. But we're trying hard on that. We support you and want to do more because the programs do work. We support you also because of what you stand for, and that's getting back to the people, giving people the opportunity to work to rebuild their lives.

Grants constitute only a part of our efforts to build new treatment programs and improve those that are already in operation. We've worked to expand the number of treatment openings and the range of treatment methods that are available.

I'm proud that based on our Fiscal Year '92 budget that I sent to Congress, since 1989 Federal funding for drug treatment has increased by 8 million. That's an 89 percent increase. And programs funded with the help of the Federal Government treat 2.2 million each year, up from 1.5 million. And in those same 3 years, our total annual spending against drugs has nearly doubled, from .4, in this whole drug program, .4 billion, now to .7 billion. I'm not trying to offset your plea, Dr. O'Brien. But I want you to know we're listening, and we're making some progress.

Look, I know this, and you who fight every single day and give of your lives to fight this problem know this, we still have a long way to go as a country, because we've got to measure our success not in dollars spent, not in these statistics that I'm clicking off here, but in lives reclaimed. And America has got to realize that success at staying off drugs depends on the environment from which addicts come and to which they return.

We can't lay responsibility for a cure just at the feet of you very competent health professionals. And we can't win this fight without effective local law enforcement, strong families, caring neighborhoods, education, good schools, active places of worship. Treatment can't succeed, is what I'm saying, in a vacuum. It certainly cannot succeed in a society that feels weak or no longer cares.

People think the problem in our world is crack or suicide or babies having babies, and those are symptoms. The disease is a kind of moral emptiness, though. And we cannot continue producing generations born numbly into despair, finding solace in a needle or a vial. If, as President, I had the power to give just one thing to this great country, it would be the return of an inner moral compass nurtured by the family and valued by society. And I had the feeling as I watched the Ph.D.'s and the M.D.'s working with these young people, or talking with pride about where they've come from, they are doing something by inculcating and helping to reinculcate these kinds of values into the lives of the young men and women that they are helping.

A strong conscience is more irresistible than a crack pipe. And a national conscience would haunt us in the knowledge that every life lost to drugs or despair kills a part of each of us.

So, here we see hope; we see a beginning. Your patients come in desperation, they told us this today, after their descent into the moral degradation of drug abuse. And they learn that the road out of the abyss begins by taking personal responsibility for overcoming addiction. No one can function alone physically, emotionally, or spiritually. We can't live full lives without the support of families and friends and neighborhoods and places of worship and I'd add then too the counselors that I've seen in action here today.

This center recognizes the importance of belonging to a society, of building a community of people who care, who reach out, and those who then in turn, reach back.

So, in addition to saying thank you, I want to say God bless you in your work you do here. You give us inspiration. You give us hope and a glimpse of how to strengthen the American dream. And believe me, for me, this last hour was no photo op. It was a basic, wonderful learning experience.

Thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 5:30 p.m. at the Veterans Administration Substance Abuse Treatment Center in Philadelphia. In his remarks, he referred to the following persons: Dr. Charles P. O'Brien, Chief of Psychiatry at the Center and associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania; Dr. George Woody, Director of the Center; Edward J. Derwinski, Secretary of Veterans Affairs; Bob Martinez, Director of National Drug Control Policy; and Representative Lawrence Coughlin of Pennsylvania. A tape was not available for verification of the content of these remarks.