US President George W Bush has called on Congress to act swiftly to put “an end to the illegal sale of highly-addictive prescription drugs on the internet.”

Unveiling his National Drug Control Strategy for 2008 during his weekly radio address to the nation earlier this week, Pres Bush reported that, since 2002, the number of younger Americans using illegal recreational drugs had dropped by an estimated 860,000.

However, he added that the 2008 Strategy will target, for the first time, the abuse of prescription drugs by young people. This is a growing problem, said Pres Bush, adding: “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.”

“The internet has brought about tremendous benefits for those who cannot easily get to a pharmacy in person. However, it has also created an opportunity for unscrupulous doctors and pharmacists to profit from addiction. So I’m asking Congress to work with my Administration to put an end to the illegal sale of highly-addictive prescription drugs on the Internet,” said the President.

His words were welcomed by US “Drug Czar” John Walters, director of National Drug Control Policy, who said: “prescription drugs provide tremendous benefits to our nation, but when misused or abused they can lead to addiction, and worse. We are working with leaders in Congress to modernise our laws to address the problem of rogue on-line pharmacies which skirt around the safeguards of legitimate medical practice and prescriptions. Prescription drug abuse is an area of serious concern, and we are now focusing our nation’s supply demand, and prevention policies with the goal of seeing the same reductions that we have achieved for illegal ‘street’ drugs.”

Specifically, the President is asking the Senate for for fast action to pass the bipartisan Ryan Haight Online Pharmacy Consumer Protection Act (S.980), sponsored by Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Republican Jeff Sessions. The bill seeks to restrict the ability of rogue Internet pharmacies to illegally divert dangerous controlled-substance prescription drugs to consumers, without valid prescriptions, and is named after 18-year-old Californian Ryan Haight, who overdosed on pain killers that were illegally prescribed over the Internet. The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Committee on the Judiciary in September 2007, and awaits consideration by the full chamber.

Meantime, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America has launched the first-ever online research clearinghouse from which, it says, patients and consumers can learn first-hand the opinions of experts on the dangers associated with importing medicines.

The website, www.buysafedrugs.info “will help people understand the wide scope and depth of information that demonstrates importing prescription drugs outside of the FDA delivery system puts patients at risk. It also points patients to safe, legal alternatives to importation if they need help with their prescription drugs,” said PhRMA chief executive Billy Tauzin.