Barry McCaffrey, the Clinton administration's new drug czar, reemphasized the importance of prevention during commencement exercises for an anti-drug program at Fair Avenue Elementary School in North Hollywood on Thursday.
In his second day in California to promote the president's revamped war on drugs, the retired Army general encouraged more than 60 students graduating from a DARE drug education program at the school to believe in themselves when tempted by narcotics or alcohol. He also urged their parents to serve as role models to dissuade the fifth- and sixth-graders from abusing those substances.
"Your participation in this program after 17 weeks is a wonderful statement about yourselves," McCaffrey told the students. "When you look at the people you admire . . . most of us understand that abusing drugs destroys your life. It isn't enough to have the DARE program alone. The parents are the ones who count."
Students, meanwhile, said they were impressed by McCaffrey.
"It felt good to me for him to come to our school and give us this time because it made me think that we really did something good," said 12-year-old Esmeralda Argueta, who presented McCaffrey with a school sweatshirt and framed poster of the school's latest crop of DARE graduates.
The national anti-drug and violence program, which was originated in city schools by the Los Angeles Police Department and is still taught by its officers, is in its 13th year and boasts a total of 33 million children worldwide and 25 million children in the United States who have participated.
A top priority of Clinton's retooled war on drugs, unveiled in April, is encouraging young people to reject drugs.
On Wednesday, McCaffrey spoke at the City Club of San Diego to sound what promises to be a theme for the upcoming political season: that eradicating drugs will require tough law enforcement and increased treatment programs. He said about 9% of the drug war budget is used on interdiction and 20% on drug treatment.
McCaffrey also told his San Diego audience that the Clinton administration is still opposed to using federal money for needle exchange programs, a controversial approach used in U.S. 55 cities.