Talking Substance Abuse with the Drug Czar

Pharmacy Times, June 2015 Women's Health, Volume 81, Issue 6

I briefly got to know a person who I think has a more balanced approach to the drug problem by highlighting the need for more rehabilitation and, at the same time, endorsing the pursuit and prosecution of those trafficking illegal substances, including prescription medication.

I had the great pleasure of being able to have a sit down with our nation’s drug czar, Michael Botticelli. Mr. Botticelli is the head of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), informally our nation’s current drug czar.

The ONDCP also oversees the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTAs), of which my task force is an Ohio HIDTA initiative. The Ohio HIDTA director was gracious enough to bring Mr. Botticelli to my covert task force to discuss current drug enforcement happenings. This was an incredible opportunity for me to meet with a person who sits at the highest level in Washington, DC, and likely has the most influence on the overall policies that impact our task force on a daily basis. His job must be overwhelming because he is responsible for everything from the flow of heroin from Mexico to the abuse of pharmaceuticals.

Mr. Botticelli’s personal history, which he is very candid about, proves that he knows addiction all too well. He struggled years ago with alcohol and was arrested in 1988 after an auto accident on a northeastern turnpike. He has now been sober for over 26 years, reportedly declining prescription opiates for a medical procedure out of his fear of rekindling addictive behaviors.

During a recent visit to a Baltimore rehabilitation center, he discussed his own struggle with alcohol and mentioned a friend’s brother who recently died from mixing prescription drugs with alcohol. During this trip, he also rode with a local police officer who has used nasal naloxone to save the lives of several drug addicts who had overdosed and were near death. We discussed this issue at our meeting.

Ohio recently passed a bill that allows law enforcement administration to dispense nasal naloxone, and lives have already been saved across the state. Although not all law enforcement agencies where the law has been changed are getting involved, the success rate of nasal naloxone use among participants is nothing short of incredible. I feel that administrators who have balked at this new program will come around in the coming years as the success stories are made more public. I also understand their frustration as they receive reports of drug abusers being revived with nasal naloxone up to 3 times in 1 day!

Mr. Botticelli is the first drug czar to come from a substance abuse background, and although critics have voiced their concern that he will lessen the work to reduce the flow of drugs into our country, I do not share that concern after our 1-hour discussion. I briefly got to know a person who I think has a more balanced approach to the drug problem by highlighting the need for more rehabilitation and, at the same time, endorsing the pursuit and prosecution of those trafficking illegal substances, including prescription medication.

He, like me, opposes any legalization of medical marijuana unless approved by the FDA, something that is very unlikely; however, he encourages the use of any part of the marijuana plant to provide essential medications, such as GW Pharmaceuticals’ Sativex, through legitimate FDA approval.

I truly enjoyed and appreciated the visit by Mr. Botticelli. I found him to be very interested in the needs of our drug task force and law enforcement in general. Arrests are not the only tool to reduce drug addiction in our country. I strongly believe we need to continue the aggressive approach of incarcerating those who prey on our nation’s addicts through the sale of illegal drugs; of having strong programs that provide sensible education to the public, especially our youth; and of continuing promising rehabilitation efforts with drugs that control addictive behavior for 30 days at a time and new drugs in the pipeline that may extend that period to 6 months and beyond. I see these drugs as the future to stopping the revolving door of drug abuse. Although these drugs are expensive, the collaborative damage of addiction is far greater.

Cmdr Burke is a 40-year veteran of law enforcement and the past president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. He can be reached by e-mail at burke@rxdiversion.com or via the website www.rxdiversion.com.