White House nominates Botticelli, a recovering alcoholic, to be drug czar

Michael Botticelli is the acting director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. He's also in recovery for an addictive disorder. This is his story. (Jeff Simon/The Washington Post)

The White House has nominated Michael Botticelli to be director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Botticelli has held the position on an acting basis since March.

Botticelli, 56, is a recovering alcoholic. He is now nominated to permanently head an office whose directors have included included physicians, law enforcement officials and a general.

Botticelli came to Washington in 2012 to be former drug czar Gil Kerlikowske’s deputy. Prior to that Botticelli was the director of the Massachusetts bureau of substance abuse services.

Botticelli has been sober for a quarter century. His path to sobriety came after a series of events including a drunk driving accident where he woke up handcuffed to a hospital bed and a financial collapse that left him facing eviction.


Michael Botticelli visited Newbury Street in Boston, near the church where he first began attending AA meetings more than 20 years ago. (Michele McDonald /The Washington Post)

Botticelli entered a 12-step program in 1988, months after his car accident, and has been sober ever since. He is now nominated to head an office that has shifted its approach to addiction toward treatment and away from incarceration. The approach dovetails with Botticelli's life.

Botticelli's biggest challenge comes as the nation is facing an epidemic of prescription-drug and heroin abuse. The number of fatal overdoses increased by 118 percent nationwide from 1999 to 2011, mostly driven by powerful prescription opioids and a recent shift that many users are making from prescription drugs to heroin, which can be cheaper and more accessible.

Botticelli travels the country, meeting with state and local officials and a group he calls "my peeps," people with substance abuse issues. He is trying to implement programs he spearheaded in Massachusetts, including helping people with addiction find jobs and housing and expanding access to a drug that can help reverse heroin overdoses.

"Today, I had the honor of being nominated by the President to be the Director of National Drug Control Policy. I am tremendously grateful for the opportunity to lead the national effort to reduce drug use and its consequences, and I know that I would not have gotten to this point without the hard work and support of my colleagues across the Administration, every member of the office and my family, particularly my husband, Dave."

Katie Zezima covers the White House for Post Politics and The Fix.

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