Michael Botticelli M'81, Federal Drug Czar

Andrew Faught

As the nation continues to battle an opioid overdose epidemic, federal drug czar Michael Botticelli M’81 offers an up-close and personal perspective. He’s a recovering alcoholic who speaks openly of the wrenching toll of addiction.

“People in recovery can relate to one another in a unique way,” says Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP). “Regardless of how we arrived at the place we are now, we know that we are uniquely situated to understand the issues surrounding addiction and our recovery.”

The U.S. Senate confirmed him to the post in February 2015, and Botticelli, abjuring the country’s so-called war on drugs, has called for a new front that focuses on rehabilitation. This winter, President Obama called for $1.1 billion in funding to be used for treatment.

“That is our most urgent challenge,” Botticelli says. “The bottom line is that we need to change the way we talk about—and think about—people with substance use disorders. We know that a substance use disorder is a disease that can be prevented and from which people can recover, but to get there we need to expand access to prevention and treatment.”

He points to another generation’s public health crises, when AIDS and tobacco appeared to be intractable problems. Both have since become “manageable,” Botticelli notes.

His days at St. Lawrence proved formative. As an assistant head resident at Whitman Hall, Botticelli, who received his master’s in education in Canton, supervised resident assistants and sought to build community in the residence hall.

“It was this experience of trying to create an inclusive community of diverse students, one that fostered healthy development outside of the classroom, that continues to shape and guide my work,” he says. “It was very similar to ONDCP’s, and the public health sector’s: Community-based work that fosters strong, healthy, vibrant, resilient communities."

Michael Botticelli M'81, seated, took part with President Barack Obama in an October 2015 community forum in Charleston, West Virginia, on the opioid overdose epidemic.