Michael Botticelli has been the acting director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy for nearly a year and has now been confirmed by the Senate as the nation’s drug czar.
As Director of ONDCP, Botticelli will oversee the Obama administration’s drug policy, which is shifting toward treating addiction as a disease rather than a criminal justice issue. As a self-described recovering alcoholic, Botticelli offers a perspective unique from those of past ONDCP directors. He said in a statement, “This is an honor I never dreamed of 26 years ago, when my substance use disorder had become so acute that I was handcuffed to a hospital bed.”
After the alcohol-related car accident that led to that hospital bed, Botticelli sought treatment and has been sober since 1988. In his statement, he noted that people struggling with addiction are expected to hit “rock bottom” before seeking help for their condition, and that only 1 in 9 people with a diagnosable substance use disorder receives treatment for it. He pointed out that treatment for other chronic conditions, such as diabetes, simply doesn’t work that way, and addiction should be no different.
To improve access to treatment, Botticelli emphasized, we must change the way much of the public views substance use disorders: “I have dedicated my life to treating drug use as a public health issue, and that’s how I approach this new role, as well. I hope that many more of the millions of Americans in recovery like me will also choose to ‘come out’ and to fight to be treated like anyone else with a chronic disease.”
Botticelli takes this position during an opioid addiction crisis that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls the worst drug epidemic in United States history. Some public officials and media outlets consider this to be the biggest challenge of his new role.