Drug addiction is a contemporary form of slavery, Pope Francis lamented Thursday, emphasizing that a rehabilitation which restores victims’ joy and dignity is much needed.
“Drugs are a wound in our society. A wound that traps many people in the networks. They are victims have lost their freedom to fall into slavery; slavery of a dependency we can call ‘chemistry.'” the Pope said Nov. 24.
It’s certain, he said, that drugs consist “of a new form of slavery, like many others that plague man today and society in general.”
Pope Francis spoke to participants in a Nov. 23-24 workshop organized by the Pontifical Academy for the Sciences titled “Workshop on Narcotics: Problems and Solutions of this Global Issue.”
The two-day gathering focused on the history of drug use and the current global situation, the global impact of the drug trade methods of prevention such as education, and the risks of medicinal and recreational drug use.
Francis has spoken out against the drug trade frequently, naming it as a primary cause of greed and corruption contributing to the disintegration of society.
In his speech to workshop participants, the Pope noted that there is no “single cause” that leads to drug use, but that the factors are many, and often involve the absence of family, social pressures, propaganda from traffickers, and the desire to have new experiences.
Each person addicted to drugs brings with them “a different personal history which must be heard, understood, loved and, as soon as possible, healed and purified,” he said, cautioning attendees not to fall into “the injustice of classifying the drug addict as if they were an object or a broken mess.”
“The dignity of the person is what we have come to encounter,” he said, noting that the high numbers of addicts isn’t surprising given the wide range of opportunities available to achieve a superficial happiness.
However, rather than bringing satisfaction, this ephemeral satisfaction “in the end becomes a venom, corrodes, corrupts and kills,” he said. “The person is destroyed and, with them, everything around them.”
Pope Francis stressed the importance of knowing the full scope of the drug problem, “which is essentially destructive,” above all in terms of the vast production of drugs and the system of distribution.
The cartel networks “enable the death of a person,” he said, noting that it is not necessarily physical death, but “psychological death, social death” in the “discarding of a person.”
Distribution systems, even more than production, represent “an important part of organized crime,” Francis said, explaining that a key challenge is knowing how to find a way to monitor the different circuits of money laundering and corruption, because “they are united.”
The only way to do this, he said, is to trace the line that runs from a small-scale drug market up to “the most sophisticated forms of laundering that nest in financial capital and in the banks which are dedicated to the laundering of dirty money.”
Francis recalled the story of a judge he knew in Argentina who had several thousand kilometers of border territory under his jurisdiction. As soon as this judge began working seriously to eradicate the problem, he got a letter in the mail with a photo of his family saying nothing more than “your son goes to this school, your wife does this.”
When you on begins to search and climb up through the distribution networks, “one finds that word of five letters: mafia,” the Pope said, because just as in the distribution the one who is a slave to drugs is killed, “so too whoever wants to destroy this slavery is killed.”
In order to curb the demand for drugs, Pope Francis said strong efforts are needed, coupled by extensive programs aimed at promoting health, family support and education, which he said “is fundamental.”
“Integral human formation is the priority” because it gives people the ability and means of knowing how to discern, so that when the moment comes, “they can discard the different offers and help others.”
This type of formation is particularly important for the vulnerable in society, such as children and youth, he said, noting that it’s also valuable for families and others who suffer from various forms of marginalization.
However, the Pope lamented that the problem of drug prevention as a program “is always slowed down by a thousand and a factor of the ineptitude of governments: by a sector of the government here, there or there.”
Drug prevention programs “are almost non-existant,” he said, adding that once the problem of drugs has advanced and settled into society, “it’s very difficult” to overcome.
Rehabilitation of the victims was also something brought up by the Pope, which he said is a priority in terms of restoring to the victims they joy and dignity they had lost. While it might not be assured by the state or its legislation, “recovery will be difficult and the victims could be re-victimized,” he said.
Pope Francis closed his speech by encouraging attendees to continue their work and “to realize, within your own possibilities, the happy initiatives you have undertaken in the service of those who suffer most in this field of war.”
“The fight is difficult,” he said, noting that whenever one “gives face” and begins to work seriously, they run the same risk a the judge from Argentina, of getting “a little card with some insinuation.”
However, he stressed that despite the risks, “we 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.”
By Elise Harris