WASHINGTON -- President Bush on Saturday urged Congress to pass legislation aimed at ending illegal sales of highly addictive prescription drugs on the Internet, citing a growing number of fatal overdoses.
Bush used his weekly radio address to highlight his administration's 2008 national drug control strategy, which the White House released Saturday. The strategy seeks a 10 percent cut in youth drug use with continued interdiction efforts such as random student drug testing, community outreach and screening and prevention at doctors' offices.
The president said that while an estimated 860,000 fewer young people are using drugs today than in 2001, the abuse of prescription drugs persists.
"Unfortunately, many young Americans do not understand how dangerous abusing medication can be, and in recent years, the number of Americans who have died from prescription drug overdoses has increased," Bush said. The White House released the address Saturday while Bush spent the weekend at his Texas ranch.
One factor behind the trend is the availability of highly addictive prescription drugs on the Internet, he said.
"The Internet has brought about tremendous benefits for those who cannot easily get to a pharmacy in person," Bush said. "However, it has also created an opportunity for unscrupulous doctors and pharmacists to profit from addiction."
Bush's drug policy adviser, John Walters, said the government is now focusing its "supply, demand and prevention policies with the goal of seeing the same reductions that we have achieved for illegal 'street' drugs."
A measure passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee last September seeks to stem the abuse of prescription drugs via the Internet. It requires that doctor meet with patients in person before prescribing medication and stiffens penalties for those who violate the rules. The bill awaits full Senate consideration.
"The damage can be done on a wide scale by a relatively small number of criminal actors here," Walters said. He mentioned cases of "rogue" Internet pharmacies that often do not require prescriptions or allow prescriptions to be faxed, making it easier for customers to forge documents or use them at multiple pharmacies.
Bush, who is spending the weekend at his Texas ranch with the prime minister of Denmark, said that since 2001, the rate of youth drug abuse has dropped by 24 percent. He said young people's use of marijuana is down by 25 percent; their use of ecstasy has dropped by more than 50 percent; and their use of methamphetamine has declined by 64 percent.
Bush also called on entertainers and professional athletes to serve as role models for young people.
"People in the entertainment and sports industries serve as role models to millions of young Americans, and that comes with the responsibility to dispel the notion that drug abuse is glamorous and free of consequences," he said. "Teachers, pastors and parents also have an obligation to help young people develop the character and self-respect to resist drugs."
In the strategy report, the White House said a recent survey found steroid use among 8th, 10th and 12th graders combined was down from 2001 by 40 percent for use during lifetime, 42 percent for the past year and 22 percent for the past month. It attributed the decreases partly to U.S. support of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which coordinates international efforts to stem improper drug use in sports, as well as continuing efforts by the Drug Enforcement Administration to crack down on criminal trafficking of performance-enhancing drugs.
"The general public is becoming less tolerant of doping and is more aware of and concerned about its consequences," the report said. "People understand that what happens at the elite level of sport often has a trickle-down effect on children, who want to emulate sports stars."
Among the other goals outlined in the report:
* reduced diversion of prescription drugs and methamphetamine precursors.
* declines in Andean cocaine production and Afghan opium poppy production.
* reduced flow of illegal drugs across the border with Mexico.
* declines in domestic production and use of marijuana.