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The White House
For Immediate Release

Remarks by Director Botticelli at his Swearing-In Ceremony

Thank you to Schroeder Stribling and the staff and clients of N Street Village. Thanks also to Judge Pamela Gray, Commissioner Gil Kerlikowske and Administrator Michele Leonhart. I want to thank Office of National Drug Control Policy staff for all their hard work.

I also want to thank the President for having the courage and strength to nominate me as Director of National Drug Control Policy.

27 years ago, I was a broken man.  You may not have been able to tell looking from the outside since I had a good job with a well-respected academic institution and I dressed well (of course) but my insides were rotting away.  Addiction had taken me to people, places and things that I would never have chosen.  Like millions of other people, my developing addiction progressed unchecked, undiagnosed and uninterrupted until an intersection with the law provided me with the “opportunity” to get care and to begin the process of recovery.  Despite the fact that that I had a strong genetic predisposition to this disease, I cannot recall a time when someone, a physician, a counselor told me that I was at significantly higher risk of developing a substance use disorder

Like many others, I also recall that despite the fact that I knew I needed help, I was too embarrassed and ashamed to ask for it.  I thought that people would think I was stupid, weak-willed, morally flawed.  That to live a life without alcohol would be dull and boring, isolating, loveless, joyless and lifeless.

To say that I was wrong is perhaps the greatest understatement of my life.  Like millions of others in recovery, I was given a life that I never could have imagined.  I found true friends, I found love and was able to marry him and even introduce him to the Judiciary Committee.  I found my life’s work and have been given opportunities that amaze me on a daily basis.  I found myself and my voice.  While this has been a journey filled with love and joy and happiness, it has not been without pain.  Like many of us, I have lost countless friends and family to this disease, lost countless more to AIDS, endured the passing of many of our family members.  But I did it as a full participant in my own life with a sense of purpose, meaning and community that is almost impossible to describe.

So, what has my recovery taught me and what does recovery teach us about the work ahead.

  1. While we still have much to learn about this disease we know a tremendous amount about what works to prevent and treat it.  While my path to recovery is important to my work as the White House drug policy director, it will only help shape effective policy when combined with good data and science.  My path to recovery is mine and mine alone, not a standard or model for others.
  2. Other people suffering with substance use disorders do not have to reach the disease’s most acute stage before getting help. Prevention and intervention are possible.  We know how to prevent this disease and we know that we need not let people progress to acute conditions before we offer them help. Substance use should not be an inevitability in people lives and letting people “hit bottom” means that we have failed them countless times along the way: in the general practicioner’s officer, at the pharmacy counter.
  3. Right now, the patient is expected to diagnose him or herself, and face a gauntlet of challenges just to get treatment and start getting well. We must shift the responsibility of, diagnoses, treatment and recovery to the system -- not the patient.
  4. We must change the way our criminal justice system responds to people with substance use disorders. Rather than incarcerating the same people over and over again, we should treat the substance use disorders that so often lie at the root of the cycle of crime.
  5. We must end the shame, stigma and discrimination that undermines honest conversation about substance use and good public policy to address it.
  6. Being honest and open about who we are sets us free.

I was recently re-watching a movie called Milk, the biopic about the life of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to office in California. As he and his cadre of advocates were strategizing on how to defeat an anti-gay ballot referendum, he urged all of them, insisted really, to come out to their family, friends, employers, neighbors, pastors.  He fundamentally knew that to change public opinion and change public policy required an individual and collective “coming out”.  That it was too easy to vote against us if they didn’t know us.

There is a growing and unstoppable recovery movement afoot being led by many people right in this room. It gains momentum daily.  People in recovery and those who love us who are refusing to live in the shadows, refusing to continue to carry their secret.  We are and will continue to change hearts and minds by the simple act of being honest and open about who we are, what are struggles were and how we overcame them.  Twenty six years into recovery, I still find it almost impossible not be moved by someone’s story.

I am humbled by the opportunity that I have been given and, if I am truthful, sometimes overwhelmed by the work ahead.  When I have those moments when fear, doubt and insecurity creep in, I go back to those handy sayings that continue to guide me and millions of others: Easy Does It, First Things First, Do the Next Right Thing and, perhaps most importantly, You Are Not Alone.  For me or for any of us to be successful, requires support, teamwork, sometimes painful honesty but most importantly community.  I am only where I am today because of what I have learned from all of you in this room, from countless other researchers, providers, family members, law enforcement officials and people in recovery to name a few.

Thanks you all for coming today and for your willingness to walk with me on this journey. I and ONDCP will continue to rely on your support and guidance in the months ahead

There are a few others that I need to thank today. My family, who has always supported me and who many of you met when I was sworn in as Deputy Director. And finally, my husband, Dave. Without his love and support, I would never be able to do this work.

Thank you.