The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) is one of the organizations that I hold in high regard. With more than 3,000 members, it is the largest society for medical addiction professionals. I always look forward to the annual ASAM meeting for the opportunity to learn about new developments in the addictions field and hear the best arguments about current controversies. This year’s meeting exceeded my expectations, and I plan to write a few posts summarizing the highlights.
I was encouraged by what the new “drug czar,” Michael Botticelli said. Botticelli leads the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which is charged with eradicating the use of illicit drugs and addressing the negative heath consequences of that use. The President sets the tone of the organization, and in past years, it has leaned towards law enforcement rather than toward treatment. Botticelli is not only one of the few treatment-oriented drug czars, he is also the first one to be openly in recovery from addiction.
Botticelli made clear that the current administration is engaged in shifting the balance of focus at ONDCP towards targeting drug addicts with treatment instead of primarily with punishment. His talk emphasized his support for evidence based interventions, such as, for example, the controversial issue of funding for needle exchange. Studies repeatedly show that exchanging needles used by intravenous drug addicts for sterile ones reduces the spread of infections without increasing the rate of drug addiction. Botticelli revealed his opinion by making the point that the ban on funding is not governmental, but rather Congressional.
Although ONDCP is a small and is no longer cabinet level agency, its media presence has an impact on attitudes about drug addicts in general and the “war on drugs” in particular. The question in my mind is whether the new administration will continue this welcome change in its focus.