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The White House
For Immediate Release

Remarks by ONDCP Director Gil Kerlikowske at the Release of the 2011 Monitoring the Future Survey

Remarks as Prepared

Thank you all for coming today.

I’d like to begin by welcoming several of my colleagues who have joined us today. Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Nora, thank you for bringing us together and for your leadership on this important issue.

Dr. Howard Koh, Assistant Secretary for Health at the Department of Health and Human Services is also here. Thanks for your support today.

I would also like to thank Dr. Lloyd Johnston, Distinguished Research Scientist at the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research and principal investigator of the Monitoring the Future study.

Each of you play such a vital role in our efforts to use science and evidence to shape national drug policies, and, on behalf of the President, I’d like to thank you for your work and for sharing these latest survey results.

Let me begin by offering some perspective. Over the past three decades, we have made tremendous progress in reducing illegal drug use in America. And despite some increases in drug use over the past several years, over the long term, rates of drug use among young people today are far lower than they were 30 years ago. And we can do more. As President Obama has noted, we’ve successfully changed attitudes regarding rates of smoking and drunk driving and there’s no reason that—with your help—we cannot do the same for these latest challenges.

It comes as no surprise to anyone in this room that drug use and its consequences have a substantial impact on America. Drug use impairs the ability of too many of our fellow citizens to reach their full potential. And the drug problem hits young people especially hard. They are at a very vulnerable stage in their development and deserve our most focused support and protection.

That is why the Monitoring the Future survey is so important in keeping us connected to teens. Thanks to the work of the University of Michigan and Dr. Johnston, we know more about which substances they are using, how often they are using them, and their attitudes about drugs. This information helps us understand why they might make decisions that compromise their health, their safety, and their ability to live up to their full potential.

The good news is that today’s results show yet again that we are not powerless against the problem of teen drug use. As Dr. Volkow said, rates of smoking and drinking are now at historic lows among teens. This progress didn’t happen overnight. And it didn’t happen in a vacuum.

Over the past several decades all of us – parents, the private sector, and public health and safety institutions - have mounted a sustained and comprehensive effort to protect teens from alcohol and cigarettes.

Our efforts ranged from limiting availability with new legal restrictions and enforcement to promoting public health campaigns aimed at educating teens regarding their dangers. And we have successfully reduced the number of young people hurt by these substances. These actions have changed the culture surrounding these substances and we will continue to do everything we can to keep these rates moving downward and keeping them as low as possible.

But today’s survey results also contain some very bad news that should concern every single parent in America – particularly regarding marijuana use. According to today’s results, although the use of marijuana among young people is unchanged from last year, it is up significantly over the past several years. And to make matters worse, young people’s perception of harm regarding marijuana use are declining.

For the first time, this survey also reveals shocking information on the extent to which teens are using synthetic marijuana – marketed as K2 and Spice. The survey shows that one in nine 12th graders in America have used synthetic marijuana in the last year. Spice and K2 now rank as the second most frequently used illegal drug among high school seniors, second only to marijuana.

Make no mistake. These drugs are dangerous and can cause serious harm. Poison control center data across America have shown a substantial rise in the number of calls from victims suffering serious consequences from these synthetic drugs. And until recently these drugs were being sold as legal alternatives to marijuana in convenience stores.

That is why just a few months ago, the DEA used its emergency scheduling authority to ban the sale of the chemicals used to manufacture K2 and Spice. I have also convened several working group meetings to bring together public health and safety agencies from across the Federal Government to share data and coordinate a comprehensive response to reduce the threat these drugs pose. Just last week, the House of Representatives passed legislation that would ban synthetic drugs to include those marketed as “bath salts.” And many states have taken action to ban the chemicals found in K2 and Spice, as well.

We will continue to respond. But in the meantime, parents must take action. This is an example of what Spice and K2 look like. You are the most powerful force in the lives of young people. Please take time today to talk to your teen about the serious consequences of using marijuana – in whichever form it may come including K2 and Spice. In addition to the resources NIDA is announcing today, I encourage parents to visit for more information on what you can do.

Finally, I should note that it is particularly important that parents act in light of the constant bombardment of messages seeking to normalize drug use. Using illegal drugs is not part of everyday life in America and it is not a rite of passage. Unfortunately, while most parents know that drug use is harmful, they still feel overwhelmed by an onslaught of media exposure which normalizes drug use coupled with pro-drug legalization political campaigns. This will worsen as we approach an election year in which millions of dollars will be spent by political operatives to deliver messaging that seeps into the consciousness of young people. These campaigns – grounded in political advocacy instead of concern for public health – are dangerous because they erode perceptions of harm among young people which in turn leads to increased use.

Already there is emerging research indicating that the passage of medical marijuana laws may be linked to higher overall use of the drug in those states that have them. This comes at a time when parents are becoming increasingly concerned about drug use. According to a separate survey conducted by the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, parents consider drug abuse as a top concern (33% consider it a “big problem”). And African American and Hispanic parents consider youth drug use as their top concern for young people.

Parents face enough challenges trying to raise healthy kids without also being forced to counteract messaging that normalizes drug use.

We must be clear with our young people: Smoked marijuana is not an FDA approved medicine and the National Institutes of Health has long documented the harms of marijuana use. Science shows it is addictive. Research shows it impairs driving. Studies show it can degrade academic performance.

We will continue to examine the affect that marijuana advocacy campaigns have on drug use, but in the meantime, parents must be fully informed about the harms these drugs can cause.

We also remain concerned regarding rates of prescription drug abuse in America. According to today’s survey, some 70 percent of high school seniors who used prescription drugs nonmedically in the past year got them for free from a friend or relative. To help prevent abuse of these drugs we are urging Americans to keep track of prescription medications in your home and ask that you dispose of any unused or expired medications properly. Soon, DEA will announce the next national prescription take-back day which will occur in the spring. I hope all of you will take advantage of this event.

Thank you.