Top drug official: the old war on drugs is all wrong

National Drug Control Policy Director Michael Botticelli, who is a recovering addict himself, aims to refocus the country's drug policy

Despite 44 years of aggressive policing and incarceration at the cost of a trillion dollars, 21 million Americans are still addicted to drugs or alcohol. The drug epidemic in America is at its worst ever, because the war on drugs, says Michael Botticelli, was all wrong. Botticelli, the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, has embarked on a new strategy he thinks is starting to make a difference. And the more compassionate approach that he espouses comes from his own experience: Botticelli is the first "drug czar" to be a recovering addict himself. Scott Pelley's interview with this reformer will be broadcast on Sunday Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

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Michael Botticelli, Director of National Drug Control Policy

Botticelli hates the term "drug czar." "Because I think it connotes this old "war on drugs" focus to the work that we do. It portrays that we are clinging to the kind of failed policies and failed practices in the past," says Botticelli.

Was the war on drugs all wrong? asks Pelley. "It has been all wrong," he says. "We can't arrest and incarcerate addiction out of people. Not only do I think it's really inhumane, but it's ineffective and it cost us billions upon billions of dollars to keep doing this."

Botticelli, a former alcoholic, has been sober for 27 years. His is a huge job, overseeing a $26 billion budget spread out over 16 government agencies. Half of this money still goes to drug enforcement, but Botticelli doesn't agree with the notion of keeping addicts in prison. "I think we have to base our policy on scientific understanding...and we've had really great models...to show that we can simultaneously divert people away from our criminal justice without an increase in crime. And it actually reduces crime."

Policy has also focused on trying to keep a seemingly unending supply of drugs from crossing the border. But Botticelli's approach is to try to stop demand by treating addiction. "Addiction is a brain disease. This is not a moral failing. This is not about bad people who are choosing to continue to use drugs because they lack willpower. You know, we don't expect people with cancer just to stop having cancer," he tells Pelley.