WASHINGTON - President Bush yesterday 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 yesterday. 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.
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 doctors 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 it at multiple pharmacies.
"Our real task is to follow through," he said of the Senate legislation.
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.
In the strategy report, the White House said a recent survey found steroid use among eighth, 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.