Tags: Presidential History | nancy reagan | first lady | cause | just say no

Nancy Reagan and 'Just Say No': The Anti-Drug Cause That Defined President Ronald Reagan's First Lady

By    |   Wednesday, 05 Aug 2015 02:30 PM

Moved by the plight of friends whose children had abused drugs, Nancy Reagan made combating illegal drug use, especially among young people, a priority as first lady in her husband Ronald Reagan's administration from 1981-1989.

With "Just Say No" as its slogan, the Reagan-led anti-drug campaign of the 1980s took the first lady from classrooms and treatment centers to the halls of the United Nations and the set of a popular sitcom, "Diff'rent Strokes," where she made a cameo — as herself — in 1983 to promote her cause.

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The effort spanned Ronald Reagan's two terms in office, and it prompted both praise and criticism at the time.

"Some derided Nancy's approach as simplistic — liberal Abbie Hoffmann likened her 'Just Say No' campaign to 'the equivalent of telling manic depressives to 'just cheer up' — but most gave her credit for raising drug awareness," says a biography of Reagan published online by the PBS series "American Experience."

The first lady's activism also corresponded with an "unprecedented expansion of the war on drugs" by the Reagan administration through federal, state, and local law enforcement, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.

Nancy Reagan's own efforts took the form of persuasion, not policing, and her "Just Say No" catchphrase "sank into popular consciousness, inspiring a national youth movement and appearing everywhere," author and presidential historian Gil Troy wrote in "Morning in America: How Ronald Reagan Invented the 1980s."

Drug use crested in the 1980s as "the drug culture acquired a new illegitimacy," wrote Troy.

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The slogan originated in an exchange with school kids in Oakland, California, according to the first lady.

"I was asked by a group of children what to do if they were offered drugs, and I answered, 'Just say no,'" she said in a televised September 1986 address. "Soon after that, those children in Oakland formed a Just Say No club, and now there over 10,000 such clubs, all over the country."

While the "Just Say No" movement eventually receded as a name-branded campaign, it left its mark on public attitudes and behavior.

"In 1978, nearly two in five high-school seniors (37.1 percent) said they had used marijuana in the previous 30 days, according to the University of Michigan’s annual Monitoring the Future survey," The Atlantic magazine reported in 2014. "Last year, barely more than one in five (22.7) said they had. This figure has changed little since the mid-'90s."

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Moved by the plight of friends whose children had abused drugs, Nancy Reagan made combating illegal drug use, especially among young people, a priority as first lady in her husband Ronald Reagan's administration from 1981-1989.
nancy reagan, first lady, cause, just say no
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2015-30-05
Wednesday, 05 Aug 2015 02:30 PM
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