A few days ago, my friend, Ang, texted me to tune in to National Public Radio (NPR) and listen to an interview that they were doing with Dr. Gabor Maté. I wasn’t near a radio and couldn’t listen to the program, but later, I did google Dr. Maté. Here’s some interesting info regarding Dr. Mate’s controversial work in Vancouver, BC.
Dr. Gabor Maté is a physician specializing in the treatment of drug addiction in Vancouver, BC. For over seven years Gabor Maté has been the staff physician at the Portland Hotel, a residence and harm reduction facility in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. His patients are challenged by life-threatening drug addictions, mental illness, Hepatitis C or HIV and, in many cases, all four.
Tune in to an overview of this drug addiction treatment center on CBC’s TV series, Staying Alive and read what’s been written about it below:
“It has been called “an abomination” by a minister of Stephen Harper’s Canadian government. Its staff members claim it “saves lives.” A regular client calls it “a community centre for junkies.” Whatever you might call it, Insite is the only one of its kind in North America — a supervised injection site for drug addicts.
Insite, located in Vancouver’s notorious downtown eastside, has been controversial since it first opened its doors in 2003. An exemption from federal drug laws was granted to allow addicts to bring their drugs onto the premises and inject them; Insite provides clean needles and medical supervision. It’s funded by British Columbia’s government and championed by community leaders, but Harper’s government is openly hostile to it and is trying to shut it down.
Now, for the first time, cameras have been allowed to record the daily dramas at Insite. Inside is a world not many have seen before. In Staying Alive, reporter Hana Gartner introduces us to some of those who work there, including Darwin Fisher, the intake manager, and Dr. Gabor Maté, who has been caring for addicts, prostitutes and the homeless for the past 10 years. You’ll meet three addicts doing their best to survive. There is Dave, a user for half of his 40 years who has been coming to Insite since it first opened and who speaks to the harsh realities of life on the street. And Taz, who comes to the centre to detox and, in the process, confronts her past sexual abuse as she struggles for a better life. And finally, Shelly, who, despite her addiction, wants us to know: “I’m somebody’s kid. I’m somebody’s sister. All I want is for people just to say ‘hi’ sometimes and remember I have a heart that beats.”
Insite‘s future is uncertain. In this CBC exclusive, for the first time, viewers can see inside Insite and make up their own minds.”
Dr. Maté has written a book, In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts
I haven’t yet read this book, so I’m including the review I found online, below. If anyone has read this book, or is familiar with Dr. Mate’s work, please comment.
“In this timely and profoundly original new book, bestselling writer and physician Gabor Maté looks at the epidemic of addictions in our society, tells us why we are so prone to them and what is needed to liberate ourselves from their hold on our emotions and behaviors. But if Dr. Maté’s patients are at the far end of the spectrum, there are many others among us who are also struggling with addictions. Drugs, alcohol, tobacco, work, food, sex, gambling and excessive inappropriate spending: what is amiss with our lives that we seek such self-destructive ways to comfort ourselves? And why is it so difficult to stop these habits, even as they threaten our health, jeopardize our relationships and corrode our lives?
Beginning with a dramatically close view of his drug addicted patients, Dr. Maté looks at his own history of compulsive behavior. He weaves the stories of real people who have struggled with addiction with the latest research on addiction and the brain. Providing a bold synthesis of clinical experience, insight and cutting edge scientific findings, Dr. Maté sheds light on this most puzzling of human frailties. He proposes a compassionate approach to helping drug addicts and, for the many behavior addicts among us, to addressing the void addiction is meant to fill.
I believe there is one addiction process, whether it manifests in the lethal substance dependencies of my Downtown Eastside patients, the frantic self-soothing of over-eaters or shopaholics, the obsessions of gamblers, sex-a-holics and compulsive internet users, or in the socially acceptable and even admired behaviors of the workaholic. Drug addicts are often dismissed and discounted as unworthy of empathy and respect. In telling their stories my intent is to help their voices to be heard and to shed light on the origins and nature of their ill-fated struggle to overcome suffering through substance use. Both in their flaws and their virtues they share much in common with the society that ostracizes them. If they have chosen a path to nowhere, they still have much to teach the rest of us. In the dark mirror of their lives we can trace outlines of our own.
—from In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts
Dr. Maté asks an important question regarding the treatment of drug addiction, How do you measure and define success?
When asked why he finds his work so gratifying and how he keeps himself going in the face of such such tragic, depressing outcomes , Dr. Maté answered that the deep authenticity of his patients is something he could never find in any other pool of patients. At the point when these addicts enter his clinic, their honesty is so compelling and heart wrenching, that Dr. Maté and his staff will do whatever it takes to give them the care and compassion they deserve and are so desperately seeking. Their need is huge, and the fact that often, Dr. Maté can mitigate their suffering, is a powerful and satisfying motivation for his work.
Maté contends that addicts are almost always abused. The essence of his treatment approach is one of harm reduction: to treat the symptoms of addiction and reduce the harm of the habit – that this is a legitimate medical goal. He advocates the decriminalization of drug possession and medically supervised drug use and treatment – that these ‘simple’ societal changes could be a huge economic savings to our entire society, that addicts shouldn’t have to commit crimes to support their habit – and that rehab settings should be comfortable and loving environments that prepare addicts to re-enter society with skills training and psychological support. This approach to recovery is a less costly and safer approach, at the very least, and more importantly, is more humane.
I’m anxious to hear from you about some of these ideas. My own have changed a lot since beginning this blog last September.