AfterParty Hero: The Sober Drug Czar Who Actually Gives a Shit
Need help? Call our 24/7 helpline. 855-933-3480

AfterParty Hero: The Sober Drug Czar Who Actually Gives a Shit


AfterParty Hero: The Drug Czar Who Brings 25 Years of Recovery To the White HouseHe’s surrounded by federal marshals 24/7 to protect him from the cartels. He’s on the federal payroll to stop smack from creeping its way over the Mexican border. But he’s also a guy who trolls treatment centers throughout the US, speaking to addicts and alcoholics, encouraging them to get sober.

And he’s also a guy who sits in recovery meetings sharing his story about how he was so drunk one night he smashed up his car and woke up in handcuffs in a hospital bed.

Yep. That’s Michael Botticelli. The 57-year-old man with 26 years of sobriety is head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. Less formally, he’s known as the drug czar.

A Living Example of Recovery

Botticelli knows what he’s talking about. He’s got a unique perspective that no other drug czar has ever had. And as the first drug czar in recovery to head up the agency, appointed to the position by President Barack Obama in 2012, he’s implementing a totally new approach to the war on drugs.

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

Botticelli knows all too well the stigma attached to those struggling with addiction, even those who have beaten the game and stayed clean. Part of his mission is to help remove the stigma, and he’s tried to do this by focusing on helping addicts and alcoholics recover, and also by sharing his own story.

“I almost found it easier to come out as being a gay man than a person in recovery,” he told The New York Times in a recent interview. “We’re doing an amazing job decreasing the shame and stigma surrounding gay folks. There is a playbook for this.”

Like most people in the US, Botticelli wants to stop the incarceration of Americans for minor drug charges, especially those who have a substance abuse problem.

Walking in the Addict’s Shoes

“Locking people up for minor drug offenses, and especially people with substance-use disorders, is not the answer,” he said. “It’s cruel. It’s costly. And it doesn’t make the public any safer.”

Another badass move by Botticelli is advocating that police be trained to administer naloxone to victims of a heroin or opiate overdose. The drug, which can can be sprayed into the victim’s nose or injected, can literally bring an opiate overdoser back from the dead.

Botticelli also wants docs who prescribe painkillers to get better educated on the signs of addiction so they can see the red flags before a patient’s abuse gets out of control. And get this—he’s even advocating for the distribution of clean needles to halt the spread of gnarly diseases like HIV and hep C.

“It means a lot to know there’s somebody who understands,” said Ashley Grimes, 22, who met Botticelli during his rounds at an outpatient treatment facility in Baltimore, the city known as the heroin capital of America. “He’s walked in the shoes we’ve walked.”

Obama Gets a Thumbs-Up

Not surprisingly, the former drug czar under President George W. Bush, John P. Walters, isn’t completely satisfied with his successor’s work. Though Walters supports Botticelli’s emphasis on treating addicts and alcoholics, he’s worried the effort will divert the agency’s attention away from reducing the supply of drugs like cocaine, heroin and meth to our fine nation.

“Yes, we need to make treatment resources available to more people, but our goal is not to just treat victims but deal with supply reduction in a way that gets foreign countries and governments involved,” says Walters.

But Botticelli says he is working to decrease the flow of drugs over US borders—which explains the marshals that shadow him day and night. That’s got to be pretty annoying, but at least he doesn’t have to worry about someone stealing his iPhone.

It’s nice to know the guy at the top is looking out for those who suffer the most from illicit substances—drug addicts. Someone with a police or military background who has no real experience with addiction patrolling the country arguably would not be able to connect with addicts and help break down stigmas. And stigmas are always an obstacle to people reaching out and getting help.

Whether you’re left, right or center, if you’re an addict or an alcoholic, you have to give Obama a thumbs-up for hiring Botticelli. Here’s hoping Hillary will keep him in the job.

Photo courtesy of US Federal Government ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons (resized and cropped). To see all our AfterParty Heroes, click here.

Any Questions? Call Now To Speak to a Rehab Specialist
(855) 933-3480

About Author

Tracy Chabala is a freelance writer for many publications including the LA Times, LA Weekly, Smashd, VICE and Salon. She writes mostly about food, technology and culture, in addition to addiction and mental health. She holds a Master's in Professional Writing from USC and is finishing up her novel.