Former Obama Drug Czar Tapped To Lead Boston Opioid Center

By Keri Blakinger 03/24/17
The Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine will specialize in addiction treatment, prevention, drug research and training.
Michael Botticelli
Photo via YouTube

Obama's drug czar has a new gig, according to the Boston Globe.

Michael Botticelli, who is in recovery, headed up the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy under the Obama administration, and is now set to lead the Boston Medical Center’s brand new Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine. 

“Many people can’t picture their life without drinking or drugs. That’s why this field has been promoting a much more visible and open recovery movement,” Botticelli said after the announcement. “It’s important for people to see hope on the other side of addiction, and to see that you can have a really great life without alcohol or drugs.”

The new center is backed by the largest donation in the hospital’s history, $25 million from John and Eilene Grayken. The Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine will be housed in the current Boston Medical Center and will focus on research, treatment and prevention.

Kate Walsh, the hospital's chief executive, celebrated the new hire, calling Botticelli “one of the nation’s leading addiction experts.” 

Before he came onboard with the White House in 2014, Botticelli spent 18 years at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, where he directed the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services. 

Once Obama tapped him to handle U.S. drug policy, Botticelli drew national attention for his willingness to talk about his own history with addiction.

“My story is not unique,” Botticelli said, recounting his early alcohol use and binge drinking that led to coke and pot. He got sober in his 30s after a drunk driving arrest, and now his background shapes his understanding of drug policy. 

“I came from a family with a history of addictions, so I’m the classic case of someone who was at risk for developing a substance abuse disorder,” he said.

But with drug addiction, professionals often miss the early warning signs—and some people believe treatment doesn’t work till the problem is bigger. Addiction, he said, “is about the only disease where we say to people, ‘You have to hit bottom before we can motivate you to change.’”

Since leaving office, Botticelli snagged attention for his criticism of the new administration’s proposed approach to fighting addiction.

“The entirety of the response can’t be, ‘We’re just going to build a wall to stop the flow of drugs coming in from across the border,’” he said, as The Fix previously reported.

“This was an epidemic that was created by legally prescribed drugs, here in the United States, and so we need to make sure we’re doing everything in our power to make progress.”

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.