Bob Hope is on the road again--as national chairman of Hope for a Drug-Free America, a new foundation with a goal of raising $100 million over the next three years, the bulk of it from corporate heavy hitters, to escalate and fine-tune the war against illegal drugs.
But with the formal campaign kickoff still a month away--Hope, James Stewart and other headliners will take the cause to the public with a sports and entertainment special on cable television on Super Bowl eve--some in the field of alcohol abuse are pointing out that by focusing on illicit drugs the program is ignoring America's No. 1 drug problem.
'Not Ignoring Alcohol'
"We are not trying to ignore alcohol," said Robin Prichard, executive director of the foundation, which is based in Washington. "Alcohol is a problem but there are some wonderful groups out there that are drawing attention to that issue."
The fight against illegal drugs has been a priority with First Lady Nancy Reagan and, Prichard said, it was the Reagans' concern that "sparked" this new effort, in particular the President's nationwide appeal in 1986 for the public to become involved.
Prichard emphasized, however, that neither the Reagans nor any government agency has a direct connection with Hope for a Drug-Free America, which is a private nonprofit foundation to be funded by corporations, individuals and other foundations.
Bob Hope, reached by telephone the day after his return from a USO jaunt to military bases overseas, said he was "enlisted" for the drug wars by Vic Maitland of the NFL Alumni Assn., a service fraternity of former pro football players. Hope has traditionally taken part in the group's "players of the year" dinner held each Super Bowl eve in the host city.
With the sports connection, Hope said, "I think it might have some effect. It's a problem that needs a lot of attention. When athletes get on television and talk to young people I think they do a lot of good." (The television special will include presentation of the National Football League players of the year, as well as a taped message from Reagan.)
While avoiding becoming embroiled in any controversy over illegal vs. legal drugs, Hope said, "It sure is worrying when you see what careers are ruined by this drug thing. I don't think you can do enough to fight drugs."
Douglas Lang, at NFL Alumni headquarters in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., expressed surprise that the effort is generating controversy. "I hate to be drawn into that," said Lang, who is handling media coordination. "It isn't that we're not aware of the (alcohol) problem, heavens. I think the general feeling is there is a better structure (in place) for handling it."
Prichard concurred, "There is some wonderful leadership in the alcohol field" but only "pockets of leadership" in the fight against drugs. "Everybody knows AA, and the National Council on Alcoholism. People know about Mothers Against Drunk Driving. These are very talented and committed people."
One nationwide effort, the National Partnership to Prevent Drug and Alcohol Abuse, spearheaded by Nancy Reagan and Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III, collapsed in June, 1986, eight months after start-up, when the Justice Department suspended a $1-million grant after an auditor raised questions about how $700,000 of this seed money had been spent.
Problem Teen-Age Drinkers
"I think anything that fights drugs is a wonderful concept," Candy Lightner, founder of MADD, said about the Hope foundation. "The problem here is what constitutes drugs--and I don't hear the word alcohol mentioned. Alcohol is illegal for those under 21 and there are approximately 4-million alcoholic or problem teen-age drinkers in this country."
Any anti-drug crusade that does not deal with alcohol "is not dealing with the real problem of drug abuse," Lightner added. She suggested that potential supporters may find this new umbrella organization a convenient way of rationalizing not having to support groups such as MADD, which are "too controversial. Many people drink and drive."
Christine Lubinski, the Washington representative for the National Council on Alcoholism, said the council staff has made preliminary inquiries as to whether its 200 affiliates might qualify for Hope grants and "we got a very clear message" that the thrust is illicit drugs. "We're not happy about it," she said.
She added: "It's our view that there's a great deal more good work done on (other) drugs than on alcohol. It's easier to focus on illicit drugs . . . the majority of parents, presumably, are not users of illicit drugs but 64% of adult Americans are users of alcohol."
Lubinski offered council statistics: 12 million Americans who have some problem with alcohol, including 4 million youngsters between 14 and 17. A recent survey in which 38% of high school seniors reported having had five or more drinks on some occasion during the prior two weeks.
"We're not talking about four teen-agers who get together with a bottle of wine over a spaghetti dinner," Lubinski said--rather, this is drinking to get drunk, "high-risk" drinking. She noted that while "illicit drug use is down in almost every category, alcohol use has remained about constant."
The council is taking a wait-and-see posture about Hope for a Drug-Free America, she said, and much will depend on who gets the money and whether programs that deal with abuse of alcohol as a secondary focus and other polydrug programs receive consideration.
However, Lubinski said of the Hope project, "The very explicit public relations focus on illicit drugs is in itself problematic" and presents the specter of money being diverted from anti-alcohol groups.
And, she said, "I'd be interested in knowing how much money (for the Hope project) is raised from the alcoholic beverage industry."
"None has been offered," the NFL Alumni's Lang responded. Asked if the foundation would accept liquor industry money, he said, "I reckon it's a determination that would have to be made at the time." Lang said he has no accurate figures on money raised to date but named as early major contributors Dow Chemical Corp., Avis Rent-a-Car and USA Today.
Hope for a Drug-Free America plans high-level receptions with corporate VIPs in 50 cities. There have been gatherings in St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Dallas and one is planned for March in Los Angeles.
Robert Beck, chairman of the board of MADD in Arlington, Tex., said that going to war only against illicit drugs is like "treating one part of the patient when the cancer is throughout the patient . . . the people who are into hard drugs are very frequently, if not always, involved in alcohol, and vice versa."
He added, "I certainly have the greatest of admiration for Bob Hope and everything he gets into . . . whatever he's going to do in this area will have some benefit." But Beck, whose son was killed by a drunk driver, said it is time to stop making a distinction between legal and illegal drugs. "They're both killers, and the people who are doing most of the killing are using both. We need to attack the whole problem."
If the Hope project were to expand its scope, Beck said, "Then we could very effectively join with them." MADD, in its campaign to get drivers under the influence off the highways, targets drunk drivers and those under the influence of drugs.
Prichard said she could "see no reason" why Hope for a Drug-Free America might not consider funding a program that deals with abuse of illegal drugs and alcohol. And she emphasized that the project is seeking new money. "We want those people who are confused about who they should support but who want to do something. We do not want to take money from those who already have a working relationship with an organization."
But some in the alcohol abuse field have expressed concern that, because the Hope literature does not specify that it is targeting illicit drugs, some people may give in the belief that they are also helping to combat alcohol abuse.
The Hope for a Drug-Free America letterhead bears a red, white and blue logo with stars, stripes and a caricature of Bob Hope. The organization (mailing address: Suite 700, 1333 New Hampshire Ave. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036) has a board of directors that includes newsman Walter Cronkite, former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and theologian Dr. Norman Vincent Peale.
The statesmen committee includes former President Richard M. Nixon, U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini of Arizona, Rep. Jack Kemp of New York, Gov. Martha Layne Collins of Kentucky and Mayor Tom Bradley. Bradley will head up an effort to recruit mayors of other cities to identify the drug problem in their communities.
Among those on the corporate committee are Dallas business magnate Lamar Hunt and Chrysler Corp. Chairman Lee Iacocca. Actors Charlton Heston, James Stewart and TV producer Grant Tinker form the arts committee and the coalition also lists the commissioners of the four major-league sports.
Forest S. Tennant, a public health doctor who is drug adviser to the NFL and executive director of a West Covina-based health network that includes substance-abuse clinics statewide, heads the scientific advisory committee. It has been charged with identifying the most worthwhile programs and projects for funding.
Tennant said: "I don't know of a single private foundation in this country that is dedicated to trying to raise money to support innovative programs and research (dealing with illegal substances). There's a big void here. It's not that alcohol isn't a terrible problem but the alcohol field has a number of foundations that are very well funded. And what about nicotine? It's a bigger addiction than alcohol, but we're not going to address that either."
Hope for a Drug-Free America will function somewhat like a United Fund, raising money and dispersing it. "Somebody needs to do this," Tennant said, "because the government is doing all it can." Although there is a National Institute on Drug Abuse, he said, it is a small government agency with very limited resources and what is needed is a well-financed national clearinghouse such as Hope plans to be.
As for the disgruntled in the field of alcohol abuse, he said, "If that's their biggest complaint, I can't sympathize."
To point up the problem of illegal drugs, Tennant produced statistics from a 1985 household survey by the national institute showing that 70 million Americans had used illicit drugs at some time and 37 million had used a drug--most often marijuana, cocaine, LSD, PCP, heroin--during the prior year, 23 million during the prior month.
His statistics show further that 3 million to 5 million Americans are using heroin, 20 million smoke marijuana (including 22% of all teen-agers), 15 million use cocaine (including almost half a million teen-agers) and Americans spend $25 billion to $30 billion a year on illegal drugs. Resulting accidents, absenteeism, lost productivity and crime add up to a loss to the nation, Tennant said, of $47 billion a year.
"I've told (the Hope coalition) I would put together the best people in this country to help determine where they'd get the best bang for their dollar. I think they've got a good shot at really doing something great."
Its stated goals include reducing the supply of available drugs, reducing demand for drugs and tolerance for drug use by others, making grants for research, establishing scholarships, funding educational campaigns, funding innovative new projects and supporting drug enforcement, testing, treatment and rehabilitation programs.
Robert Strock, a retired Coca-Cola executive in Los Angeles who is Hope for a Drug-Free America's volunteer vice president for advertising and marketing, said the organization will be "ready to roll probably the first of February."
The Jan. 30 television special, which will be broadcast on USA Network from San Diego, the Super Bowl city, will be seen in Los Angeles by tape delay at 10 p.m.