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Raleigh's Hamilton attends White House drug-prevention discussion

The president met with law enforcement, religious leaders and one of baseball's most famous comeback stories – recovering addict and Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton, of Raleigh.

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WASHINGTON — President George W. Bush highlighted his eight-year record in reducing drug use, reflected in a White House gathering with law enforcement, religious leaders and one of baseball's most famous comeback stories – recovering addict and Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton.

The president met Thursday with leaders in drug prevention and people in recovery as he focused on a 25 percent drop in overall drug use among youths since 2001, when he took office. While the percentage is down, the progress during the Bush years is mixed, with carefree attitudes among young people about marijuana and a shift to prescription medicine as a drug of choice.

"There will be more work done after I'm out of here, but we have laid the foundation for a successful effort against drug use, drug supply and helping those who have been addicted," Bush said, with Hamilton seated at his left and others in chairs around the Roosevelt Room table.

Among those in attendance were John Walters, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy; Adm. Thad Allen, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, and Harry Connick Sr., the former district attorney in Orleans Parish, La., who helped put in place a student drug testing program at an area Catholic school.

In the past, Bush has spoken openly about his drinking habit, saying, "I understand addiction." The 62-year-old president gave up drinking after his 40th birthday.

The president didn't discuss his personal experiences, but Hamilton did.

The 27-year-old outfielder, a Raleigh native and Athens Drive High School graduate, was out of baseball for three years as he battled addictions to cocaine and alcohol, wasting $100,000 on drugs in six weeks. He made it to the major leagues in 2007 and joined the Rangers – a team Bush once co-owned – last December. This past season, Hamilton led the American League with 130 RBIs and hit .304 with 32 home runs. At the All-Star Home Run Derby at Yankee Stadium in July, he belted 13 straight homers.

Hamilton said Thursday he shared some of his story of drug use and the road back.

"I told how much easier it is for me to stay clean because I'm held accountable at such a higher level," said Hamilton, who argued that the greater concern is an individual in an everyday job.

The White House event was just one of several recent public events as Bush races through a selective legacy check list in his final days in office. The president has highlighted his efforts to combat the spread of AIDS, his record in the Middle East and his doctrine of pre-emptive military action. His appearance Thursday came on the heels of gloomy economic news - a jump in jobless claims to the highest level in 26 years - and an uncertain fate for a $14 billion auto industry rescue package despite his appeals.

The presidential event was timed to the release of data from three studies. One examined drug use among teenagers; the others detailed cocaine use.

The "Monitoring the Future" study by the University of Michigan, a yearly report that looks at the behavior of eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders nationwide, found modest changes from last year. The 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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