Democracy Now has an interview with Dr. Gabor Maté of Insite,
AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration’s budget proposal for the Office of National Drug Control Policy sets aside nearly twice the amount of funding for law enforcement and criminalization than for treatment and prevention of drug addiction. Out of a total of $15.5 billion, some $10 billion are used for enforcement. National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske praised the numbers as reflecting a “balanced and comprehensive drug strategy.”
Well, just last year, the newly appointed drug czar and former Seattle police chief had called for an end to the so-called “war on drugs,” raising hopes among advocates of harm-reduction approaches to curbing drug use. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal last May, Kerlikowske said, “People see a war as a war on them. We’re not at war with people in this country.”
Well, I’m joined right now here in the Democracy Now! studio by a doctor who has spent the last twelve years working with one of the densest populations of drug addicts in the world. Dr. Gabor Maté is the staff physician at the Portland Hotel, a residence and harm reduction facility in Vancouver, Canada’s Downtown Eastside. Dr. Maté also treats addicts at the only safe-injection site in North America, a center that’s come under fire from Canada’s Conservative government led by Stephen Harper.
Dr. Gabor Maté is the bestselling author of four books. His latest, just out in the United States, is called In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction…
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, the first point to get there is that if people who become severe addicts, as shown by all the studies, were for the most part abused children, then we realize that the war on drugs is actually waged against people that were abused from the moment they were born, or from an early age on. In other words, we’re punishing people for having been abused. That’s the first point.
The second point is, is that the research clearly shows that the biggest driver of addictive relapse and addictive behavior is actually stress. In North America right now, because of the economic crisis, a lot of people are eating junk food, because junk foods release endorphins and dopamine in the brain. So that stress drives addiction.
Now imagine a situation where we’re trying to figure out how to help addicts. Would we come up with a system that stresses them to the max? Who would design a system that ostracizes, marginalizes, impoverishes and ensures the disease of the addict, and hope, through that system, to rehabilitate large numbers? It can’t be done. In other words, the so-called “war on drugs,” which, as the new drug czar points out, is a war on people, actually entrenches addiction deeply. Furthermore, it institutionalizes people in facilities where the care is very—there’s no care. We call it a “correctional” system, but it doesn’t correct anything. It’s a punitive system. So people suffer more, and then they come out, and of course they’re more entrenched in their addiction than they were when they went in.