Gabor Maté

“In truth, the U.S.-sponsored international “War on Drugs” is a war on poor people, most of them subsistence farmers caught in a dangerous no-win situation. If the goal of the War on Drugs is to discourage or prevent drug use, it has failed. Among young people in North America drug use has reached unprecedented levels and enjoys unprecedented tolerance. According to figures quoted by Norm Stamper, the number of Americans who have used illegal drugs stands at 77 million.

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that the number of prisoners has tripled, from 139 per 100,000 residents in 1980 to 476 per 100,000 in 2002, the vast majority being incarcerated after drug convictions. From 1980 to 1999 the annual number of Americans arrested for drug offences nearly tripled, from 580,900 to 1,532,200. “That’s a lot of enemies,” comments the ex–police chief. If the War’s purpose is to protect people and communities or to improve their quality of life, it fails disastrously.

As the personal histories of Downtown Eastside addicts illustrate and as statistics show, the human costs are devastating. “One [result] which is especially cruel and will have a terrible impact on American life for many generations is the large increase in the number of women incarcerated for drug violations,” U.S. District Court Judge John T. Curtin has pointed out.

From 1980 to 1996, there has been a 400 percent increase in the number of women prisoners. Many of those jailed for drug violations were mules or assistants. I venture that none was a principal organizer. Many are the mothers of small children who will be left without maternal care, and most probably without any parental care at all…The engine of punitive punishment of mothers will haunt this nation for many years to come.

If the War’s aim is to end or even curtail the international drug trade, it has failed there, too. If it is to suppress the cultivation of plants from which the major substances of abuse are derived: once again, abject failure. Truth, once again, is among the inevitable casualties of war.”


Gabor Maté, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction
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In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction by Gabor Maté
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