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Nation’s Acting Drug Czar is a Recovering Alcoholic


By Cheryl Steinberg

The nation’s top drug-control official, Michael Botticelli, just might be the person for the job, considering his first-hand experience with substance abuse.

As the Nation’s acting drug czar, Botticelli is tasked with spearheading the Obama administration’s drug policy, which is largely established on the idea of shifting the practice from the criminal justice system as the go-to to helping people with addiction by making treatment and support programs more accessible to them. Traditionally, the position has been held by law enforcement officials, a military general and physicians. But for now, it is occupied by a recovering alcoholic.

Botticelli’s story is the epitome of the policy, and a view that he credits with saving his life.

Botticelli, 56, the nation’s acting drug czar is a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 25 years. He decided to seek help and recovery after experiencing a series of events, common to alcoholics in their active addiction, namely waking up handcuffed to a hospital bed after a drunken-driving accident and a financial collapse that left him facing eviction.

A New Strategy

The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy approach has been, Botticelli said, a “very clear pivot to, kind of, really dealing with this as a public-health-related issue of looking at prevention and treatment.” He heads an office that has now shifted away from the antiquated and highly-flawed “war on drugs” ideology and is instead expanding access to treatment for addicts and preventing drug use through education.

Previously, Botticelli was director of Massachusetts’ Bureau of Substance Abuse Services and is currently trying to expand on some of the programs he enacted at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Programs such as allowing police to carry naloxone — a drug commonly known as Narcan that can reverse an opiate overdose — and helping people who have completed treatment find housing and jobs are his focus as acting drug czar.

Botticelli’s Story

After several hardships including financial ruin and having his license suspended due to a drunken driving accident, Botticelli was finally ready to get help.

When he received an eviction notice, he called his brother for support. It was during that phone call that Botticelli’s brother asked if him was an alcoholic. “I finally said yes,” he said. “I remember distinctly thinking to myself, ‘If I say I’m an alcoholic, there’s no going back.’ ”

A friend brought him to his first 12 Step meeting.

“That’s the first time that I raised my hand and said that my name was Michael, and I was an alcoholic, and that I needed help,” he said. “At that point, people kind of rally around you.”

Botticelli took suggestions by staying in the middle, attending meeting after meeting, and changing people, places, and things. He said he learned something then that has guided him since: Identify with people who have a problem, but don’t compare yourself.

“When I first came here, all I wanted to do was not drink and have my problems go away,” he said, choking up. “I’m standing here 25 years later, working at the White House. And if you had asked me 25 years ago when I came to my first meeting here if that was a possibility, I would’ve said you’re crazy. But I think it just demonstrates what the power of recovery is.”

Has alcohol become a problem for you? Are you drinking just to feel normal? Have you ever experienced “the shakes” or any other withdrawal symptoms when you try to go without drinking? These are signs that you may have a drinking problem, alcohol dependence, or alcohol addiction issue. The good news is that help is available and that recovery is possible. Life can be amazing when you recover from your addiction. Call us toll-free at 1-800-951-6135 to speak directly with an Addiction Specialist.

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