Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, known as the drug czar, is the first person in substance-abuse recovery to hold the job. The New York Times says his history, far from the liability it once may have been, “is considered evidence that the government is moving toward addressing drug abuse more through healing than handcuffs.” Tom McLellan of the Treatment Research Institute in Philadelphia says, “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. He is the living example of what should be an expectable result of treatment — recovery.” Botticelli's agency devises the budget for national drug policies. It assists the State Department and Drug Enforcement Administration in dealing with governments of countries from which drugs are exported and works with domestic officials on strategies to stem the supply and abuse of drugs, from heroin to prescription opioids.
He spent four months in a court-mandated outpatient treatment program for alcohol abuse and left his job as an administrator at Brandeis University to work at a substance-abuse treatment center. Botticelli, 57, has remained abstinent for 26 years, his only synapse-soothing substance being an occasional cigarette. He refused a prescription for opioid painkillers after a medical procedure for fear they might awaken addictive behavior. Botticelli said that as the social stigma associated with drug abuse dissuaded people from seeking treatment, the substance-abuse field should take cues from the gay rights movement. He is gay and married his partner in 2009. “I almost found it easier to come out as being a gay man than a person in recovery,” he says. “We're doing an amazing job decreasing the shame and stigma surrounding gay folks. There is a playbook for this.”