Nancy Reagan cited contemporary music and humor as two of the ways today's youth get the message that illegal use of drugs is socially acceptable.
"Kids have picked up quickly on the broad sanction 'social' drug use now enjoys," she told the American Council on Marijuana and Other Psychoactive Drugs Inc., meeting at the Sheraton Washington Hotel. "They get the word through music and much of today's humor, through publications for drug users and the widespread sale of drug paraphernalia."
Calling abuse by youth the country's "overwhelming drug abuse problem" in her prepared remarks, Mrs. Reagan said young people "are smoking, shooting, or sniffing while parents stand by feeling confused and heartsick. We've come to realize there simply aren't any soft drugs -- they're all dangerous and damaging."
The two-day national educators' conference of ACM, whose board of directors includes Carol Burnett, Lois Robards, wife of actor Jason Robards, and Tex McCrary as well as prominent scientists, educators and theologians, focused on cooperation among educators, parents and students to provide drug-free environments in the classrooms.
In what a White House aide described as a "series" of unpublicized meetings with experts in the field last spring, Mrs. Reagan met with ACM's president, Dr. Robert L. DuPont, former head of the Special Action Office, Drug Abuse Prevention, under the Nixon administration.
"She asked him then what the schools were doing about drugs," said Sheila Tate, the first lady's press secretary, "and was told about this conference."
Yesterday, the first lady described for more than 150 conferees her visit to a New York drug treatment center, Daytop Village, where she heard young users talk about their habits. She had been "genuinely stunned," she said, by the magnitude of America's drug problem.
Urging parents, educators and other private groups to continue to work together in the fight against drug abuse by youth, Mrs. Reagan warned that otherwise a whole generation could be lost.
"You know, when our children are young we inoculate them against polio and diphtheria and whooping cough -- if only we could do the same for drug abuse," she said.
Dr. Sidney Cohen, clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, called parent and peer action groups "the most promising prevention programs in sight. At last the sickness called 'permissiveness' has been identified, and the loving resolve to say 'no' has been relearned."
In speaking to the council yesterday, Mrs. Reagan was reemphasizing her continuing interest in mobilizing parental action to deal with the drug problems of children.
The council presented its Drug Abuse Prevention Award to Robert Rogers, senior producer of NBC News, for a special documentary titled "Reading, Writing and Reefer," first shown on national television in 1978.
"One of the first people to notice the program might be important was an ex-governor Reagan of California," said Rogers in accepting the award. "I said right then that a man that perceptive has to be going places."
"I just wish you'd have warned me what you saw in his future," Mrs. Reagan told Rogers. "I might have been a little more prepared."