They flew in from countries as nearby as Canada and as far away as Japan Malaysia. Back home, the drug problems range from glue sniffing to heroin addiction to cocaine production. And when the 17 women attending the First Ladies Conference on Drug Abuse line up for their first photograph together with Nancy Reagan tomorow this morning at the White House, they will be saying "Cheese!" in seven different languages.
Seventeen wives of foreign heads of state accepted Nancy Reagan's invitation to join in the two-day conference. Twelve, including Mrs. Reagan, were available for interviews, which follow.
Today's session includes presentations on U.S. education and prevention programs, a talk by a former drug addict on "Why I Used Drugs -- Why I Stopped" and an open discussion among the first ladies. Tomorrow the group flies to Atlanta for a daylong program sponsored by the National Parents' Resource Institute for Drug Education.
"Mrs. Reagan will be flying down to Atlanta with half of them, and back with the other half in alphabetical order," said the first lady's press secretary, Jennefer Hirshberg. "I would imagine the talking to each other and getting to know each other and the conviviality will occur then."
The State Department Office of Protocol is paying for the visits of the first ladies and two staff members each. A protocol spokeswoman said the cost of the conference and the conviviality cannot be calculated until it is over.
The conference is not only the crowning event in Nancy Reagan's antidrug crusade. If nothing goes wrong all goes as planned, it will also be the culmination of the campaign the East Wing staff has been waging for several years to counter the negative coverage Nancy Reagan the negative image she received of her first two years as first lady. The event will, of course, bring press attention to the first lady. And, while she stresses the conference is geared to "mothers" rather than government officials or professional experts, for the next two days Nancy Reagan will be filling a role that looks very much like that of stateswoman.