The drug czar paid a visit to campus on Wednesday.
Michael Botticelli, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, discussed addiction during a lecture at Rackham Auditorium on Wednesday morning.
Botticelli’s position is more commonly known as President Barack Obama’s “drug czar,” and he directs drug control policies in the United States. His talk, delivered to about 30 University students and faculty members, focused on substance abuse recovery and included testimonials from doctors and recovery patients.
Botticelli, himself a recovered alcoholic, discussed the challenges faced by substance abusers on their paths to recovery.
“You don’t see hope on the other side,” Boticelli said. “We have to provide hope and have people see what recovery is all about.”
A main focus of the presentation considered the stigma around recovering patients. He said this shame felt by drug users can actually prevent them from seeking the care they need.
“One of the things we need to continue to work on is the role that language plays in perpetuating stigma,” Botticelli said. “People are afraid of what their neighbors think, what the police will think, so we know that stigma has an impact in delaying care.”
According to the Office of Adolescent Health over one in five high school seniors reported “binge drinking” daily in the previous month. By senior year, half of adolescents have abused an illicit drug one or more times. On college campuses, the numbers are larger, and the most common drugs abused include marijuana, Adderall and ecstasy.
Recently, a study by University researchers showed an increase in the use of all three of these drugs by college-aged students.
Botticelli emphasized the importance of young people supporting those close to them who are in recovery. He said young people are less likely to be embarrassed when talking about addiction, particularly because so many substance abusers are in their teens or early 20s.
“What I find tremendously invigorating is the role of young people in recovery,” he said. “We have this explosion of young people in recovery who are not going to be silenced by shame and stigma.”
At the event, Donald Vereen, director of the University’s Substance Abuse Research Center, presented on the biological aspects of substance abuse. His slides graphically depicted the harmful effects of regular use of drugs like cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine, including dangerously high dopamine levels and slowed brain activity.
He also noted how difficult it is to treat these cases.
“There are these expectations that when you have a disease and when you enter treatment, you will be cured,” Vereen said. “There are very few things we actually cure in medicine.”
Public Health student Lauren Boone attended the lecture because of her interest in drug education.
“(It) was informative in helping me to understand what is going on federally and biologically and it helped me to identify areas that I can contribute to in my research specifically in terms of drug education,” she said.
Botticelli said the White House’s agenda for substance abuse help includes promoting collegiate recovery programs and engaging in general outreach.
“One of the most fundamental approaches we can take to reducing stigma is simply having someone know someone else,” he said.