Sitting comfortably in the Red Room, just down the hall from where final touches were being put on the East Room for today's conference, Nancy Reagan says the conference was the outgrowth of conversations she has had with wives of foreign leaders on state visits here.

She says the conference is "not on a governmental level -- it's a mother-to-mother level" -- and though she thinks there has to be "some government involvement" in stemming the drug tide, "it is a family, a personal problem, and I don't know of any government that can provide love or attention or affection.

"This was all new to them, so it just seemed a logical next step to make it an international effort," says Mrs. Reagan, acknowledging that some of those countries have international reputations for contributing to the worldwide drug problem.

"Many of these countries have been the source of drugs and have tried very hard to stop it, and there have been some tragedies," Mrs. Reagan says, mentioning no names.

She says she thinks a conference could be helpful "by promoting the awareness of the global aspect of the whole problem, by getting these women really involved in the problem, by establishing a communication between us -- a give and take."

She plays down the costs of setting up programs such as hers, which emphasize education and prevention but depend upon the private sector for most of its financial support. And she says she would plug those volunteer aspects because she thinks it "works better." Government involvement is necessary in interdiction and legal penalties, she says, but a country doesn't have to be affluent to fight drug abuse.

"It doesn't take anything to get the family together," she says. "Family groups here started spontaneously, and there's no reason they can't in other countries."

Mrs. Reagan says that taking a public position in fighting drugs can be controversial.

"That's why everybody was not as crazy about my getting into this as I was," she says. "I just said 'this is what I want to do.' "

Having been an actress hasn't given her any particular advantage in putting across her drug crusade message, she says.

"A mother is a mother is a mother," she says. "All these women are mothers and grandmothers, and they know their children and grandchildren are going to be in trouble, and they don't want them to grow up in that kind of a world."