Drug Czar Takes Stance Against Stigma-Filled Terms Like 'Abuser' And 'Addict'

By John Lavitt 05/26/16

Michael Botticelli is speaking out about how stigma and shame-filled terms create obstacles for people in need of recovery. 

Drug Czar Takes Stance Against Stigma-Filled Terms Like ‘Abuser’ And ‘Addict’
Michael Botticelli Photo Credit: John Lavitt

Continuing the slow—yet steady—momentum toward expanding awareness and understanding of addiction, White House Drug Czar Michael Botticelli took a firm stand against "abuser" and "addict" terminology. Speaking at a National Hepatitis Testing Day event last Thursday, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) said that such terminology is destructive and prevents people from accessing the help they need.

Botticelli clearly illuminated his position, saying, “In fact, research has shown that when we use terms like abuser and addict to describe someone with a substance use disorder, that person is actually less likely to be offered treatment or to receive treatment, and often contributes to negative public policy … and this stigma extends to other aspects of recovery, including housing and employment opportunities so needed for people to be stable in their recovery.”

Although coming up with the funding for the recent opioid abuse legislation passed in Congress is a huge hurdle to overcome, Botticelli explained that it’s not the only hurdle. Shame and stigma are a huge part of the problem as well. Botticelli believes this is the second front that should be emphasized in the battle to alleviate the opioid epidemic. On this front, where groups like Faces & Voices of Recovery are currently leading efforts, the stigma of drug abuse must be shifted to instead highlight the disease concept of addiction, he said. 

"Stigma is an obstacle for people reaching out, reaching recovery, and living healthy and productive lives," Botticelli explained. "That’s because stigma breeds prejudice, discrimination. It alienates and isolates people. It prevents them from accessing treatment and even seeking it in the first place. It says you should be ashamed because you have a disease."

Groups like Faces & Voices of Recovery help by mobilizing the over 23 million Americans in recovery, getting them to band together and share their stories on a public level. By going beyond the anonymous veil of 12-step programs, as Botticelli has personally done before becoming our "Recovery Czar," the shadows of shame can be illuminated by the bright reality of recovery.

In light of National Hepatitis Testing Day, Botticelli also addressed syringe exchange programs. "Studies have shown time and time again that syringe services programs work," he said. "We know that people who inject drugs and don’t use syringe services programs are seven times more likely to contract hepatitis C."

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Growing up in Manhattan as a stutterer, John Lavitt discovered that writing was the best way to express himself when the words would not come. After graduating with honors from Brown University, he lived on the Greek island of Patmos, studying with his mentor, the late American poet Robert Lax. As a writer, John’s published work includes three articles in Chicken Soup For The Soul volumes and poems in multiple poetry journals and compilations. Active in recovery, John has been the Treatment Professional News Editor for The Fix. Since 2015, he has published over 500 articles on the addiction and recovery news website. Today, he lives in Los Angeles, trying his best to be happy and creative. Find John on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.