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Senate approves ex-Mass. official as US drug czar

Vote unanimous for Botticelli; ‘Czar’ calls for prevention, treatment

Michael Botticelli was formerly head of the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse Services.David L. Ryan/Globe STaff/file 2014

WASHINGTON — The Senate unanimously approved a former Massachusetts official to serve as the US drug ‘‘czar,’’ as lawmakers vowed to curb an epidemic that results in more than 40,000 deaths a year from overdoses of prescription painkillers, heroin, and other substances.

Senators voted, 92 to 0, to approve Michael Botticelli, who has served as acting drug czar since March and was nominated by President Obama for the permanent appointment.

A former head of the Massachusetts Bureau of Substance Abuse Services, Botticelli has emphasized prevention and treatment and has been in recovery for more than 25 years.

Botticelli, 57, of Malden, helped launch a program that expanded treatment and recovery opportunities at local community health centers.


He has spoken publicly about his struggle with alcohol abuse and a 1988 arrest for drunken driving, which resulted in his being handcuffed to a hospital bed.

‘‘I’m one of 23 million Americans in recovery who have gone on to live productive lives,’’ Botticelli said last year.

Botticelli, who was deputy director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy before being named acting director, said his office has seen a dramatic shift from a justice-driven strategy to a treatment-driven one. Federal funding for prevention, treatment, and recovery is at its highest level in more than 12 years.

‘‘There’s a large acknowledgment that we can’t arrest and incarcerate our way out of the problem,’’ he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called drug abuse a serious problem in his home state of Kentucky and said he looks forward to working with Botticelli. About 1,000 Kentucky residents die each year by overdosing on drugs — a higher total than the number of traffic fatalities in the state, McConnell said.

McConnell said he was pleased that Botticelli has said that, if confirmed, he will visit eastern and northern Kentucky in the next few months to ‘‘help ensure a continued federal focus on Kentucky’s drug problem.’’


Senator Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, also lamented a nationwide ‘‘scourge of prescription drug and heroin addiction that is breaking apart families and burying communities under a mountain of despair.’’

Markey called Botticelli a pioneer in public health and drug policy and noted that in nearly two decades at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Botticelli was responsible for numerous programs to expand treatment, recovery, and prevention efforts.

‘‘Mr. Botticelli’s personal life experiences have provided him a unique perspective on the epidemic facing our nation,’’ Markey said, adding that Botticelli often reminds officials that ‘‘there is a family, a loved one, a friend, or a child behind each statistic’’ on drug abuse.

Botticelli said last week that the federal government should not interfere with the District of Columbia’s move to legalize possession of marijuana for recreational use. While he doesn’t agree with legalization, Botticelli said he believes the District ‘‘should stick to its home rule.’’

District voters approved legalization in November by a 2-to-1 ratio. A spending bill passed by Congress in December includes language intended to block legalization.