The Senate has confirmed Michael Botticelli to be the nation's drug czar.
Botticelli was confirmed 92-0. He has been doing the job on an acting basis for just under a year. The position is one that has been held by doctors and military members; with Botticelli's nomination it will now be occupied on a more permanent basis by a recovering alcoholic.
“I am honored by the confidence placed in me by the President and Congress to direct this nation’s drug policy,” Botticelli said in a statement. “There are millions of Americans – including myself – who are in successful long-term recovery. Our stories can fundamentally change the way our Nation views people with a substance use disorder, which is a disease needing medical treatment like any other disease."
Botticelli is tasked with overseeing the Obama administration's drug policy. It is now focused on shifting people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol toward treatment and away from the criminal justice system, an approach that dovetails with Botticelli's life.
"As director, I will continue to advance a science-based drug policy to reduce drug use and its consequences through a balanced approach to public health and public safety,” he said.
Botticelli has been sober since 1988. His path to sobriety came after a series of incidents including a serious drunk driving accident where he awoke handcuffed to a hospital bed and a financial collapse that left him facing eviction. He came to Washington in 2012 be then-czar Gil Kerlikowske’s deputy after working at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. He travels the country, meeting with state and local officials and a group he calls "my peeps," people with substance abuse issues.
Botticelli's biggest challenge is the epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse that has seized the nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of deaths related to heroin rose by 39 percent from 2012 to 2013. Powerful prescription narcotics are the top cause of drug overdose deaths nationwide.
The White House, which has held two summits on opiate addiction, is proposing to significantly increase the amount of money it puts toward fighting what it calls an urgent public health issue. It wants to direct $133 million in funding to a number of federal agencies to do things including expanding prescription drug monitoring programs, increase the availability of a drug that can reverse an opiate overdose and expand medically-assisted drug treatment. Some experts and advocates have called the proposed increases too little, too late as the number of drug deaths have skyrocketed in recent years.