02.09.15

Leahy Urges Senate To Support Nominee To Serve As Drug Policy Director

WASHINGTON (Monday, February 9, 2015) – Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Monday called for the confirmation of Michael Botticelli to serve as Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

Botticelli has served as the Acting Director of ONDCP since March 2014, and he was previously the Deputy Director of this office.  Botticelli was first nominated to lead ONDCP in September of last year, and the Judiciary Committee unanimously reported his nomination to the Senate last December. The Committee again unanimously approved his nomination last week.

Leahy chaired a Judiciary Committee field hearing in Rutland, Vermont, last year focusing on that community’s response to the surge in addiction to heroin and other opioids. Leahy also hosted a Washington, D.C., screening of “The Hungry Heart,” a movie about drug addiction in Vermont, which Botticelli attended.

In a floor statement Monday, Leahy said confirming Botticelli to ONDCP will further help communities in Vermont and throughout the country respond to these critical issues.

“Millions of American families are struggling with an unrelenting addiction to controlled substances. But after decades of taking the wrong path toward treating drug abuse, it appears that we are finally in the midst of a fundamental shift in how we approach the issue. Addiction must be viewed as a public health issue,” Leahy said. “There is perhaps no greater advocate for this shift in thinking than Michael Botticelli.”

Leahy added: “Mr. Botticelli understands that success requires an increased commitment to early intervention and education, treatment, and smart criminal justice policies. While the scope of the challenge is immense, Mr. Botticelli has us going in the right direction. I am hopeful he will help get us ahead of addiction, and help end the misery it inflicts on individuals, families, and our communities. I urge my fellow Senators to vote for his immediate confirmation.”

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.),
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On the Confirmation of Michael Botticelli
to be the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy
February 9, 2015

Millions of American families are struggling with an unrelenting addiction to controlled substances. This is nothing new, unfortunately.  But after decades of taking the wrong path toward treating drug abuse, it appears that we are finally in the midst of a fundamental shift in how we approach the issue. 

For years we simply considered drug abuse as a crime, to be dealt with by police, prosecutors, and prisons.  There is now, however, a near consensus that addiction must be viewed as a public health issue.  This requires coordinated investments in prevention and treatment.  Law enforcement agencies would rather not arrest the same offenders over and over, without dealing with the underlying addiction.  Treating that addiction – rather than just punishing the addict – is often the more effective, more humane, and less costly approach. 

There is perhaps no greater advocate for this shift in thinking than Michael Botticelli.  Throughout his career in public health he has worked to bridge gaps between law enforcement, health care, and education providers.  As acting director for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), he has made clear that we cannot “incarcerate addiction out of people.”  While law enforcement will always play a vital role in protecting citizens from drug-related crime, Mr. Botticelli recognizes that addiction is a disease – one that can be successfully prevented and treated using the same evidence-based approach we use for other public health challenges.

Mr. Botticelli’s nomination was reported out of the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously by voice vote last year and again last week. I am glad that he continued to receive strong, bipartisan support from the full Senate here today.  As director of ONDCP, Mr. Botticelli will help to coordinate drug-control activities across the Federal government.  This includes critical efforts like administering funding for Drug-Free Communities Grants and High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas.  It is no small task.  Just last week, the President requested over $12 billion for demand reduction programs.  This represents the largest commitment to treating and preventing drug addiction in our nation’s history.  And it is badly needed.

Much of the country is now confronting a rising challenge:  addiction to heroin and powerful painkillers.  My home state of Vermont has not been spared, and it has attracted much attention for its struggles with opioid abuse.  The film “The Hungry Heart” provides a powerful portrayal of the damage this addiction has inflicted on Vermont families. I was honored to host a screening of this moving film with Mr. Botticelli last May.

However, in many ways, Vermont is ahead of much of the nation.  Vermonters long ago recognized the problem and began developing new approaches to address it.  Dedicated Vermonters working in the traditional roles of prevention, treatment, and law enforcement came together around common goals and shared strategies.  These community partnerships have produced innovative and successful programs such as the Rapid Intervention Community Court in Burlington, and Project VISION in Rutland.  First responders are saving the lives of addicts throughout the state by carrying naloxone.  Evidence-based prevention and treatment services have been extended to all corners of Vermont.  And barriers to recovery have been significantly reduced. 

These are all strategies that the ONDCP promotes.  Mr. Botticelli understands that success requires an increased commitment to early intervention and education, treatment, and smart criminal justice policies.  While the scope of the challenge is immense, Mr. Botticelli has us going in the right direction.  I am hopeful he will help get us ahead of addiction, and help end the misery it inflicts on individuals, families, and our communities. I urge my fellow Senators to vote for his immediate confirmation.

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