By People Staff
February 11, 2002 12:00 PM

If President Bush needed a reminder that illegal drug use is one of the nation’s most painful problems, it came in the early hours of Jan. 29. On the very day Bush delivered his State of the Union Address, his niece Noelle Bush, 24, pulled her white Volkswagen into the drive-thru of a Tallahassee Walgreens. The only daughter of Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, 49, she was there to pick up an order of Xanax, a Valium-like sedative popular among college students. But instead of filling her prescription, pharmacist Carlos Zimmerman—suspicious of a phoned-in order from someone claiming to be a doctor he discovered no longer practiced in the area—called police, who charged Bush with prescription fraud.

The arrest left her parents, Jeb and Columba, 48, “deeply saddened,” the governor said in a statement the day of her arrest. “This is a very serious problem.” And apparently a familiar one. In 1994 he admitted that one of his three children had a drug problem, though at the time he did not say which one. (Noelle’s brother George, 26, studies law at the University of Texas, and Jeb Jr., 18, is a private-high school student.)

Noelle, who finished her second year at Florida State University after getting her associate’s degree from Tallahassee Community College, told police “she was suffering from panic attacks, and that’s why she was using

Xanax,” says police spokesman Scott Hunt. She denied posing as a doctor to call in an order to Walgreens voice mail. But a police report said, “The voice on the voice mail and the voice of Miss Bush appear identical.”

With no prior convictions, Noelle will be unlikely to face any jail time. Still, “this is sad; Noelle is a delightful young woman,” says Peggy Sapp, president of Informed Families, the Miami-based antidrug group Jeb and Columba have worked with for four years. “But this could happen to any parent.”