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Bush urges new rules on online sales of addictive prescription drugs

Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2008

by Nicole Gaouette, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON President Bush called on Congress on Saturday to pass legislation restricting online sales of powerfully addictive prescription drugs, citing a growing number of overdoses.

Bush referred to San Diego teenager Ryan Haight as he unveiled the 2008 national drug control strategy in his weekly radio address. Haight overdosed on painkillers he bought over the Internet, prompting Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to introduce the bill that Bush championed Saturday.

The president said his national drug policy had reduced youth drug consumption by 24% since 2001. That progress has been counterbalanced by the growing problem of prescription drug abuse.

"Unfortunately, many young Americans do not understand how dangerous abusing medication can be," Bush said. "In recent years, the number of Americans who have died from prescription drug overdoses has increased."

John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said prescription medications were the drug of choice for 12- and 13-year-olds. He said that by some estimates 2,500 young people start to use such drugs every day.

Walters added that 70% of young people obtained the drugs for free from family or friends, usually out of a medicine cabinet. The administration will encourage parents to safeguard their drugs, particularly painkillers; discard any leftover pharmaceuticals; and talk to their teenagers.

Walters stressed that the administration effort was not directed at older Americans who order cheaper drugs online from Canada or other overseas suppliers. "What we're concerned about is the diversion, for the purposes of abuse, of controlled substances, principally painkillers," he said.

Current drug strategy emphasizes education and prevention, including nonpunitive, random student drug testing; treatment; and disruption of the illegal drug supply.

Walters praised Mexico and Colombia for their help in targeting traffickers and said they had disrupted the cocaine and methamphetamine supply to the U.S.

But he singled out Venezuela for failing to cooperate in drug control efforts. "We stand ready to work" with Venezuela, Walters said. But he noted that many Venezuelan drug flights appeared to leave from airstrips "where authorities could take control, but that hasn't been done."

He said that drug traffic appeared to be going increasingly to Africa, Europe and the Caribbean. "It's a huge danger and a growing danger to Venezuela, to Europe, the Caribbean and the U.S.," Walters said.

Bush estimated that 860,000 fewer young Americans are using drugs today than in 2002, when the administration launched its anti-drug efforts. He said that marijuana use was down 25%, that Ecstasy use dropped by more than 50% and that methamphetamine consumption dipped 64%.

Haight, a high school honors student and athlete, was 18 when he died in 2001 of an overdose of the painkiller hydrocodone. He bought the drug online using a debit card his parents had given him to buy baseball cards.

At the pharmacy website he filled out a questionnaire identifying himself as a 25-year-old with chronic back pain. The prescribing doctor never met or examined Haight.

Feinstein's bill would require a doctor to conduct an in-person examination before a prescription could be considered valid. It has been endorsed by Major League Baseball as a way to crack down on the sale of steroids over the Internet.

The bill has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and awaits consideration by the full Senate.

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