Rethinking Addiction

“There is no war on drugs. There is a war on drug addicts,” Dr. Gabor Maté boomed over the clink of silverware at the 12th Annual MLK, Jr. Awards Luncheon hosted by Mothers Against Teen Violence.

The luncheon marked the end of the Texas Conference on Drug Policy—the first of its kind in the Lone Star State. In his keynote address to conference participants, Maté, who has spent 12 years working with patients struggling with hard-core drug addiction in Canada, maintained that addiction and the way society views it should be reevaluated.

“They don’t need punishment. They need understanding,” he stated.

Maté told brunchers that addiction is actually built into framework of America as he took a magnifying glass to the words “the pursuit of happiness,” the famous right promised to every U.S. citizen under the constitution.

“This is an addictive society we live in. Happiness is not out there to be pursued,” he argued.

Mate, who received MATV’s Humanitarian Award, stressed to participants that those with addiction need to be embraced in the bosom of society to begin to fill the gaping void that has driven them to the drug abuse, not isolated and criminalized for their need to escape reality. He was one of 26 speakers that offered alternative perspectives on the U.S. drug policy over the course of three-day conference, which including lectures about “Religion, Ethics and Drug Policy,” a panel discussion with prominent members of the Dallas religious community and “A Citizen Stands Up On the War on Drugs,” which took a frank look at the initial reasons for President Nixon’s 1971 declaration.

“In 1971, a drunken and later disgraced president had a rum and coke, went to a press conference and declared the ‘War on Drugs.’And then he came back to the White House and had a martini,” Tom Forrest Broadley, an advocate for states’ rights for drug control, stated.

Broadley suggested that the declaration began as simply a convenient political solution for Nixon to quiet vocal opposition from the likes of The Black Panthers.

“With one presidential decree, with one wave of his hands, he criminalized about 30 of his political opponents. With a wave of a hand, you don’t have any rights because you smoke pot, so you’re a criminal,” he stated.

The conference sought to elevate the discussion on drug policy in Texas and advocate for better solutions.

“The truth is, just about everybody knows that the war on drugs is not working,” said MATV Founder and CEO, Joy Strickland.

For Strickland, it’s personal. On June 19, 1993, her son, Chris Lewis and his friend Kendrick Lott were brutally slain at the hands of two young men high on illegal drugs. She started MATV in 1994 to serve other victims and offer violence prevention services. Since 2008, MATV has been advocating for drug policy reform in Texas. Pictures and biographies of both Lewis and Lott were placed on the back page of the conference’s program, as a reminder to Strickland and conference attendees alike that the failings in drug policy and legislation often lead to lost lives.

“That experience is the reason that I do what I do,” Strickland stated.

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