NEW BEDFORD - The Greater New Bedford Community Health Center hosted a special guest who's well known in the battle against addiction on Friday.

The health center teamed up with the New Bedford Opioid Task Force and Mayor Jon Mitchell to bring in Executive Director of the Grayken Center for Addiction at Boston Medical Center Michael Botticelli to share with those attending his story of addiction and recovery, and to discuss different ways the community can work to combat the Opioid Crisis.

Botticelli has a long resume in researching, treating, and creating policy for addiction. He's the former Director of National Drug Control Policy under President Barack Obama, served as Deputy Director of the White House Office National Drug Control Policy in 2012, and was the Director of the Bureau of Substance Abuse Services for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Botticelli says that in his many years involved in the battle against addiction, as an elected official and former addict, that the stigma surrounding drug addicts is still heavily attached. He also says in some cases it disheartens people from getting the help they need.

“One of the things that we've seen with addiction is that the stigma that's associated with this is still really prevalent. It keeps people from asking for help and makes them avoid seeking help,” said Botticelli. “We're here to both highlight the issue and to really further community responses to the opioid epidemic.”

CEO of the Community Health Center Cheryl Bartlett actively worked with Mayor Mitchell to schedule a day for Botticelli. Bartlett says that based on New Bedford's number of overdoses compared to that of other cities and towns makes it a priority to address.

“New Bedford continues to be in the top five cities or towns in Bristol County for the amount of overdose deaths that have been recorded over the last couple years and for every overdose death there is there's about six to twelve non-fatal overdoses,” Bartlett explained.

Botticelli was also asked about his thoughts on the proposal set by Governor Charlie Baker, and backed by New Bedford City Council, that seeks to charge drug dealers whose distribution leads to the death of a user subject to prosecution on manslaughter charges. He told WBSM News that while he understands that it's a critical role for law enforcement to arrest drug dealers and keep them off the streets, we also “can't arrest and incarcerate our way out of this problem”.

“We've come a long way in understanding addiction as a disease and understanding that we really can't arrest and incarcerate our way out of this problem. Often, people that have this addiction are subjected to very long prison terms,” Botticelli explained. “. I also think we have to be careful because there are many low-level dealers who are dealing largely to support their habit. I think we really have to be careful in our application of those kinds of standards as it relates to dealing drugs,” he said.

Among other topics, Botticelli also discussed treatment for those still suffering from addiction and for those who hope to remain sober. He also spoke with Mayor Jon Mitchell in front of the crowd about different ways to battle opioid addiction that are specific to New Bedford.

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