Drug Addiction is 'Slavery,' Says Pope Francis

By Paul Gaita 12/01/16

At a recent workshop, the Pope addressed the failure of the War on Drugs and the need for more addiction treatment programs. 

Drug Addiction is 'Slavery,' Says Pope Francis

Pope Francis spoke extensively on the human toll taken by drug addiction, which he likened to "a new form of slavery," and urged that more efforts to support addicted individuals, such as rehabilitation programs, must be made available.

Speaking before a gathering organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences titled "Workshop on Narcotics: Problems and Solutions of this Global Issue" on Nov. 23 and 24, Pope Francis described drug addiction as a "wound in our society" that causes sufferers to "fall into slavery – slavery of a dependency we can call ‘chemistry.'"

He placed no blame on a single cause for addiction, citing instead a variety of factors, from family history and social pressures to undue influence from traffickers. People should not give in to the "injustice of classifying the drug addict as if they were an object or a broken mess," he said.

That stance largely informed the tone of compassion and understanding that the Pope struck throughout his speech at the workshop. He cautioned against punitive measures and attitudes towards addicts, citing that each person struggling with substance abuse has "a different personal history which must be heard, understood, loved and, as soon as possible, healed and purified." To achieve that goal, he suggested, greater emphasis must be placed on programs that support health, family and education.

Pope Francis acknowledged that roadblocks exist at multiple levels that prevent such programs from reaching the greatest number of those in need. He called out federal agencies with policies that run contrary to rehabilitation efforts, which are stifled by "the ineptitude of governments." To block such efforts makes recovery nearly impossible, and could in fact result in "the victims [becoming] re-victimized."

The Pope urged governments to instead turn their preventative measures towards organized crime and associated businesses that provide such operations with support through "the most sophisticated forms of laundering that nest in financial capital and in the banks which are dedicated to the laundering of dirty money."

He fully understood the risks of pursuing such organizations, citing a personal story of a judge he knew from his home country of Argentina who, upon targeting the cartels in his territory, was warned off by a letter containing a photo of his family which noted, "Your son goes to this school, your wife does this."

To combat such an array of external and internal forces weighing upon the victims of the drug industry, Pope Francis exhorted the attendees to remember that they "are defending the human family, defending the youth, children … it's not a matter of momentary discipline, it's a thing that is projected forward."

The Pope's statements were largely in line with recent comments he made regarding drug abuse, most notably at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit in 2015, where he admonished the efforts of the War on Drugs, which he believed had "given rise to a parallel structure [in society] which threatens the credibility of our institutions."

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.