President George W. Bush claims a national decline in teen drug use during his tenure, but enormous challenges remain in convincing young people about the dangers of marijuana and other illicit substances.
At the White House on Thursday, the president was surrounding himself with leaders in drug prevention and people in recovery, including Josh Hamilton, a star baseball player for the Texas Rangers who has battled through addictions to cocaine and alcohol. Bush, the former co-owner of the Rangers, has spoken openly about his old drinking habit, saying, "I understand addiction." The 62-year-old president gave up drinking after his 40th birthday.
The presidential event is timed to the release of data from three studies. One examines drug use among teenagers; the others detail cocaine use.
The president's main message: Overall drug use among youths is down 25 percent since 2001, when he took office. That figure is based on the new "Monitoring the Future" study by the University of Michigan, a yearly report that looks at the behavior of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders nationwide.
The other part of Bush's theme, based on two other data sets, is success in targeting cocaine. Bush's Office of National Drug Control Policy says the research suggests the supply and the purity of street-level cocaine is dropping, fueled in part by U.S. interdiction efforts with countries such as Mexico.
But there are troubling signs, too, including carefree attitudes among young people about marijuana and a shift to prescription medicine as a drug of choice. Independent anti-drug experts say that even the progress during the Bush years is deeply mixed. Reports vary, and huge numbers of kids still use drugs.
The Michigan survey found 10.9 percent of eighth-graders, 23.9 percent of 10th-graders, and 32.4 percent of 12th-graders reported using marijuana over the past year. It also found that the proportion of eighth-graders who considered smoking marijuana to be harmful was going down.
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