WASHINGTON — Declaring that illicit drugs "rip right through the moral fiber of our countries," First Lady Nancy Reagan gathered together the wives of 18 heads of state to "compare and trade ideas" in an unusual, two-day conference on drug abuse, which began Wednesday at the White House.
The meeting, which moves today to Atlanta, emphasized the roles of parent groups, the private sector and Mrs. Reagan herself in fighting drug abuse in the United States.
Mrs. Reagan's eyes misted as one of the speakers, a former drug abuser, began crying as she told her dramatic personal story. Robin Page, a 16-year-old from Cincinnati, said she remembered waking up in the hospital after overdosing on drugs and alcohol. She was 14 at the time.
"I kept thinking," Page said, choking on her tears, "if you just don't let me wake up and see (her mother's) face again. I'm so sick of seeing the disappointment."
But Tsutako Nakasone, wife of the Japanese prime minister, told Page she was surprised by her earlier statement that she had not realized she had a drug problem.
'Not an Issue' in Japan
"I thought addicts knew they had problems," Nakasone said through an interpreter. "In Japan this issue is not an important social issue. I have learned a great deal."
The White House invited first ladies from nations that previously had sent representatives to international meetings of the Parent Resource Institute for Drug Education (PRIDE) in Atlanta, including Argentina, Bolivia, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, West Germany, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Norway, Pakistan, Portugal and Panama.
After hearing Page speak, Marie Elizabeth Seaga of Jamaica said: "I'm going to take the message home to get close to our children--be like brothers and sisters to them."
Page spent in a year in the controversial Straight Inc., rehabilitation program, which has been sued several times and accused by the ACLU and other parties of false imprisonment, assault and battery, medical malpractice and other violations. Page went on to become a counselor there and met Mrs. Reagan when the First Lady toured the facility.
Variety of Speakers Heard
The women at Wednesday's session heard from government specialists and several speakers from organizations that had been visited or aided by Mrs. Reagan: the National Federation of Parents for Drug-Free Youth, Oakland Parents in Action, Pharmacists Against Drug Abuse Foundation, Kiwanis International and public television station WQED-TV in Pittsburgh.
All of the speakers lavished praise on Mrs. Reagan and echoed her sentiment that "government cannot supply love, affection, attention, involvement and commitment the way the parent groups can."
When asked about her husband's proposed 40% cut in federal funding for drug abuse programs, Mrs. Reagan replied: "I'm speaking mother-to-mother today. I don't get into the other."
Marianne von Weizsaecker of West Germany and Maria Manuela Eanes of Portugal said they thought high unemployment was part of the cause of drug abuse, but Mrs. Reagan downplayed its importance.
"I support that it is a factor but I don't believe it is the main factor," she said. "There are lots of well-employed people involved in drugs.
"One young person told me: 'You don't understand the pressures we're under. We need help.' My answer was, 'We're going to have pressures all of our lives. Nobody ever promised us a rose garden. If you don't learn to handle pressures when you are young, how are you going to get through life?'
"My mother has a saying: Little children, little problems; big children, big problems."