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THE DRUG CZAR AND THE RECOVERING ALCOHOLIC

To its many critics, the United States’ War on Drugs is actually a war on drug users. Not since President Nixon declared drugs “public enemy number one” has government spending on addiction treatment outpaced spending on enforcement of drug laws. But a change in policy may be on the way.

Michael Botticelli, the new drug czar — the informal name for the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy — is himself a recovering alcoholic, with more than twenty-six years sober. This is the first time since the office’s inception in 1989 that a person with direct, personal experience in recovery has held the position. In a recent New York Times profile, Botticelli and other experts in the field spoke at length about the implications of his appointment.

“Every other drug czar has had a military, political or police background,” said Tom McLellan, a founder of the Treatment Research Institute in Philadelphia and an expert in substance abuse. “Nothing against them, but it’s time to have that new perspective, and Michael brings it. He is the living example of what should be an expectable result of treatment — recovery.”

Botticelli has been sober since 1988, when he was court-mandated to rehab after an automobile accident. (As many addicts know well, it can take an incident of this magnitude to set a user on the road to recovery.) And based on this experience, his interest, he says, lies in rehabilitation: “Locking people up for minor drug offenses, and especially people with substance-use disorders, is not the answer. It’s cruel. It’s costly. And it doesn’t make the public any safer.”

In an Op-Ed in the Huffington Post published earlier this month, Botticelli championed the use of naloxone, a drug that can reverse the effects of opiate overdose. The better equipped law enforcement officials are to use naloxone, he writes, the more lives that can be saved. As the country faces the devastating effects of the heroin epidemic, we need any help we can get. And Botticelli, with his belief in the possibilities of recovery and desire to help addicts get treatment, might be just the man we need. If nothing else, he’s certainly an example of the kind of life that is possible with recovery — successful, balanced, and a force for good in the world.

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