WASHINGTON – President Bush offered an incentive to help drug users with a patriotic flair quit their habit: If they stop using drugs, they will be helping to fight the war on terror.
"The terrorists use drug profits to fund their cells to commit acts of murder," Bush told a group of activists Friday before signing an order reauthorizing the Drug-Free Community Support Program. "If you quit drugs, you join the fight against terror in America."
Bush didn't need to remind members of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America that they were soldiers in the war on drugs. But he did tell supporters, who exploded into applause as the president signed the bill to help communities treat addicts, that the United States was having better luck winning its new war than defeating the age-old enemy, drugs.
The bill signed by Bush authorizes — but does not actually provide — expanded federal funding to the program. The program's budget of around $50 million could almost double in five years under the bill authorized by the president, but spending will depend on Congress.
Flanked by administration and congressional officials, including newly-sworn in National Drug Policy Director John Walters, Bush said that while efforts to reduce drug use among young people has been hopeful in the last 20 years, alarming trends in recent times suggests the need for more work.
"Recently, we've lost ground in this important battle," he said. "According to the most recent data, the percentage of 12th-graders using an elicit drug, in the previous month, rose from 15 percent in 1992 to 25 percent in the year 2000."
He said marijuana use by eighth graders has also increased, while their "perceptions of the dangers of marijuana," as well as their fears of LSD and cocaine dropped.
"Behind these numbers are countless personal tragedies, and my administration will not be indifferent to them," he said. "We must return the fight against drugs to the center of our national agenda."
Previous administrations have been criticized for perpetuating a drug war that has made little or no progress in alleviating the illegal drug market or drug abuse in the United States. Billions of dollars have been spent on the war, while more recently, critics have said the money might be used more effectively for treatment rather than law enforcement and imprisonment of drug addicts.
The practical approach is something Bush said he appreciated, and one found among the faith-based institutions that he has proposed funding.
Bush pointed to a National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse study that said religion and spirituality can help in the prevention and treatment of substance abuse and in the maintenance of sobriety.
"We must welcome anybody who's willing to join in this important goal and in this important cause," he said, urging the Senate to pass legislation to fund the "armies of compassion."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.