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White House Unveils Anti-Drug Policy

Associated Press, Feb. 8, 2006

by Jon Sarche, AP Writer

DENVER - The Bush administration on Wednesday unveiled its 2006 anti-drug program, a campaign that encourages more high schools to screen students and urges teens to live above the influence of drugs and peer pressure.

Drug use among some teen groups is down, and this year's strategy focuses on expanding or improving existing campaigns for prevention, treatment and reducing supplies, said John P. Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

"We're not radically tearing things up because, for the first time in a couple of decades, we're having dramatic results," he said in an interview before presenting the strategy at a youth substance-abuse treatment center. "We want to keep the pressure on."

Illicit drug use among 8th, 10th and 12th graders had dropped by 19 percent, or about 700,000 teens, since 2001, he said.

Since the Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that schools can randomly test high school students in competitive extracurricular activities, his office and the Department of Education have provided grants and other support to at least 350 school districts to screen students.

Walters said the number of districts participating has grown by about one per week since last spring.

The drug control office says screening can deter teens from starting to use drugs and can identify teens who have begun to use drugs, providing parents and counselors a chance to intervene.

Screening can also identify teens who have developed a dependency on drugs so they can be referred for treatment, the office said.

"If we reduce teenage exposure, the problem will be reduced for generations to come," Walters said. "If you start to use later, there's a much lower risk of addiction."

Prescription drug abuse and illicit drug abuse among adults remain problems, he said.

Walters dismissed claims by critics who said he chose Denver for the drug-policy announcement because voters last fall legalized possession of small amounts of marijuana for adults, or because a similar proposal could be on the statewide ballot in November.

"There's a lot of misinformation, a lot of lying, that goes on in these campaigns," Walters said. He said more youth seek or are ordered to get treatment for marijuana use than for alcohol or for all other illicit drugs combined.

Mason Tvert, director of SAFER, which proposed the Denver marijuana initiative and is backing the statewide initiative, said the number of people in treatment programs is up because drug courts and arrests are up.

Tvert's group argues that marijuana is safer than alcohol and should be taxed and regulated like alcohol.

The White House anti-drug strategy calls for expanding intervention programs and increasing treatment options, increased funding for drug courts, which can order supervised drug treatment rather than prison time, and stepped-up enforcement to halt production and transportation of illegal drugs.

The president's fiscal 2007 budget request for the agency is $12.7 billion, up $109.1 million, or 1 percent, from the current budget of $12.5 billion, the agency said.

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