A microbiology professor told Nancy Reagan on Thursday that when her son overdosed on heroin, she felt “deeply anguished” and guilty for having put her career before her family.
“I learned my son was a drug addict when I was called to the hospital. . . ,” she said. “It was the hardest problem I ever had in my life. I felt guilty that I had been overambitious in pursuing my career and for leaving my marriage of 20 years.”
It sounded like a typically American problem. But the storyteller was Laura Vasconcelos, a Portuguese parent whose story had to be translated into English for the First Lady.
Presents $5,000 Check Mrs. Reagan wound up a 10-day stay in Europe on Thursday by presenting a $5,000 check to the Portuguese Assn. for the Prevention of Toxic Substances after talking about the problem with a group of concerned parents.
“In our country, this whole drug problem started in the ‘60s when nobody knew anything about drugs,” she told the seven Portuguese parents. “I want to give everybody the benefit of what we learned in those years.
“I’m a big, big believer in parent groups. In the final analysis it is the parent groups that are going to make the difference.”
The First Lady had presented another $5,000 check to a parents’ group in Bonn earlier in the trip while her husband attended the economic summit. Both checks were from the American Federation of Parents for a Drug-Free Youth.
Mrs. Reagan had also visited a drug rehabilitation center near Rome, addressing more than 70 recovering addicts.
She heard the same kind of painful stories everywhere, and repeatedly gave the same advice: Form parent groups.
Her anti-drug activities in Europe marked the first time that she has taken her crusade outside the United States. However, her chief of staff, James Rosebush, said he expects her to make more foreign trips to address the subject in the future.
Thursday’s meeting with the Portuguese parent group came as a result of a drug conference the First Lady sponsored in Washington last month. At that time, she had 17 first ladies gather at the White House to hear experts give speeches and to share ideas about how to curb drug abuse in their countries.
During the conference, Manuela Eanes, wife of Portuguese President Antonio Ramalho Eanes, asked Mrs. Reagan if she would talk with the parent group in Lisbon, and she agreed, rearranging her schedule.
“I would have changed anything to be with you today,” the First Lady told the parents who met her at Queluz Palace, a guest house for state visitors that was modeled after Versailles.
Mrs. Eanes said at Thursday’s meeting that the First Lady’s presence was “an excellent way to call attention to the problem.”
Antonio Carvalho, the head of the Portuguese parent group, thanked Mrs. Reagan for coming, saying, “The interest you show in us is a great incentive and is of great value to us.”
80,000 Users The Portuguese government estimates that 80,000 of the 2 million Portuguese people aged 12 to 25 are drug dependent.
“The drug problem here is not alarming, but it is worrisome,” said Maria de Graca Pocas, a government expert. “There has been a rise in the use of marijuana to the point where it has become fairly common and they are starting at an ever earlier age.
“In the last year and a half, there has been a spectacular increase in the use of heroin.”
When told by her aides that it was time to leave, the First Lady said, “Oh, we have to go. I could talk so much longer.
“Let me just encourage you to expand your parent groups. They can grow so easily. I encourage you to the point where I brought you some money.”
Later Thursday, the First Lady toured a Catholic girls’ school, Colegio de Sao Jose, and in the evening she and President Reagan attended a state dinner in their honor at Ajuda Palace, given by President and Mrs. Eanes.