Botticelli Discusses Drugs As A Public Health Issue, Emphasizes Treatment

RadioMy ears perked up on Monday when NPR broadcast an interview with the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) Acting Director Michael Botticelli.  Earlier this year while accompanying Reclaiming Futures Executive Director Susan Richardson to Washington D.C. I had the chance to briefly meet Acting Director Botticelli, and knew he was highly thought of by the federal juvenile justice staff members  with whom we work.  On August 28, President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Botticelli as the Director of ONDCP.

The interview I heard was conducted by NPR’s All Things Considered host, Robert Siegel. In the interview, Mr. Siegel sounded impressed that Acting Director Botticelli publicly acknowledges that he was a recovering alcoholic (25 years). He went on to ask questions about the drug issues of our day, particularly marijuana legalization and prescription pain medication abuse.

What stood out to me, as an advocate for Reclaiming Futures, a parent and as someone who has worked for an agency treating kids with serious drug addictions (mostly marijuana), were the questions to Botticelli about marijuana legalization and his call for dealing with the issue of addiction through a public health lens.

Botticelli spoke about drugs as a public health issue, emphasizing treatment as well as intervention and prevention, a perspective Reclaiming Futures embraces. He also talked about the marketing of marijuana in states where it has become a business and the escalating use of the drug.  He expressed concern that a growing number of teens now see marijuana as less dangerous than tobacco.

“We see escalating use. We know that marijuana is addictive. About 1 in 9 people who use marijuana regularly become addicted,” Botticelli said.

Later, Siegel asked, “Should we stop talking about a war on drugs? Is it - is that a metaphor that does not describe exactly what you've just been talking about?”

Botticelli responded that, “We need to deal with addiction and drug use as a public health issue. We need a more compassionate and humane criminal justice response to this issue. I was one of those with my own level of involvement in the criminal justice system and was given a second chance to be a productive citizen. And that's the response that we want for all Americans.”

The interview also includes an important conversation about prescription painkillers as well. You can listen to, or read a transcript of, the full interview here.

Image by Robert Ashworth via Flickr

Updated: September 10 2014