Michael Botticelli is the first person to take the position as Drug Czar who has a history of alcohol addiction and a chronic substance use disorder. Botticelli is 28 years sober and counting– he’s got some radical ideas about how America should treat drug addicts, and his approach is long overdue.
In an interview with Frontline Botticelli branded the incarceration of drug abusers without the option of pursuing treatment in lieu of their sentencing as “ineffective” and “inhumane.” As opposed to turning to the criminal justice system Botticelli and is pushing for the successful rehabilitation of those with raging addiction disorders. He emphasizes a focus on “prevention, treatment, [and] supporting people in recovery.”
Botticelli is as committed to helping substance abusers recover as he is to ridding residential communities of addiction. Statistics prove neighborhoods riddled with addiction are prone to heightened rates of crime, independent of possession offences. He told Frontline,
“I know that we’re continuing to make progress on understanding at a community level that arrest and incarceration are not appropriate for the vast majority of people who have substance use disorders.”
“I think it’s important for our communities to not be riddled with substances in their communities.”
“Part of what we’ve really been trying to do is reframe addiction as a chronic disorder that has components of early onset, so focusing on prevention, doing a better job at identifying people earlier in their disease progression, and getting people care and treatment before it develops into this acute disorder. I often say- and you’ve often heard the expression that people have to hit rock bottom before we get care. That is ridiculous.”
“We need to mirror other disorders in terms of their care, intervention and treatment.”
Can we expect drastic policy shifts on the horizon? We hope so. Fortunately we appear to be shifting from an incarceration-centric persuasion to treatment based sensibility. One of our main aversions to addiction and drug use stems from the illicit nature of the act.
By sullying a chronic disease with judicial reprimands, with harsh mandatory sentencing, we have stripped the disease of addiction its proper place in medical healthcare.
And in doing so, they continue to bring themselves closer to the brink of death. With treatment compulsive behaviors and biological addiction are redressed. Addictive substances eventually mutate the brain and shutdown essential neurotransmitters necessary for normal emotional behavior.
Many point fingers and assert addiction is a choice, substance abuse is an initial choice (perhaps better described as a compulsion)– but there are many components of substance use disorders we can directly link to genetic origins. Conversely, environmental conditions precipitate substance use disorders from infancy and beyond.
As much as addiction is a biological disease, the condition manifests- or is bolstered by, learned behavior from influential forces in the child’s life. If we stress treatment and prevention as opposed to locking parents up and throwing their children in foster care, we can eliminate pernicious environments for both children and adults.
Until we are able to see past the illicit nature of addiction, as decreed by our government, and acknowledge the condition for what it is- a chronic disease- we will be unable to remedy addiction on an individual, community, and societal level.