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History as Substance Abuser Influences Nation’s Drug Czar

America’s drug czar is an alcoholic who is approaching his job differently than his predecessors. In leading the White House Office of National Drug Control, Michael Botticelli is following the Obama administration’s policy of shifting away from the “war on drugs.”

Botticelli said the approach is a “very clear pivot to, kind of, really dealing with this as a public-health-related issue of looking at prevention and treatment.” His history of substance abuse provides an insightful perspective.

In May 1988, Botticelli was involved in a drunk driving accident. He woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed and faced charges. Despite completing court-ordered addiction programs that cleared his record, Botticelli continued to drink heavily. A friend led him to a 12-step program for gays and lesbians that was successful, and he has been sober for 25 years.

Botticelli, 56, eventually became director of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health Bureau of Substance Abuse Services. While there, he started several programs, including allowing police to carry naloxone, a drug that can reverse a heroin overdose and helping people who have completed treatment find housing and jobs.

Although Botticelli can empathize with substance abusers, he objectively separates his past from his work, says Kevin Norton, chief executive of Lahey Health Behavioral Services. The drug czar has been the Obama administration’s staunchest voice against marijuana legalization. As to the power of recovery, he is also vocal.

 “When I first came here, all I wanted to do was not drink and have my problems go away,” said Botticelli while standing outside the church where his recovery began. “I’m standing here 25 years later, working at the White House, and if you asked me 25 years ago when I came to my first meeting if that was a possibility, I would have said you’re crazy. But, I think I just demonstrate what the power of recovery is.” 

Source: Washington Post

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