In Search of Better Stories

Drug Addiction, Slavery, and Eating Disorders

     The time of the field and house slave has long since ended. Ours is the time of the drug slave. Slave life in each era is equally brutal. Freedom lost, guaranteed poverty and squalor, environments rife for abuse and humiliation, and premature death guaranteed after the body and mind have been systematically destroyed.

     Slavery wasn’t okay then, and it’s not okay now. Some will immediately object to this comparison. Owning another human being is an entirely different matter than struggling with drug addiction. I’m not so sure about that. Is there a difference between being held against your will (slavery) and having your will overwhelmed by an enslaving force? (drug slavery). Not really, especially when you consider the similarity of the end result.

     I’m coming to the conviction that drug slavery is an abomination, just like the slavery of old. It’s not okay to see piles of bodies bent and broken scattered about our sidewalks and roadways. In four years of working on the DTES, I have seen thousands of people with a will so overwhelmed by drugs they are powerless to resist its enslavement. Their bodies swell, and open sores grow and fester untreated. Their mental capacities decrease with every toke or injection, and their brains fall into permanent dysfunction. They cease to care about nutrition, hydration, and sanitation. Infections take told as horrid wafts of urine choke out the air and piles of human feces dot the sidewalks. Many hobble about in this filth, missing limbs because infections went untreated for too long. Thirty-year-olds, toothless, haggard, and broken, look like sixty-year-olds. In the pit of drug slavery, which thrives in the heart of the Western World, life expectancy is on a steady decline! 

    The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd, unveils the horrors of 19th-century slavery in a way that makes it impossible for me not to see the comparison I am now making. All agreed, even Southerners, that the “Peculiar Institution,” as slavery was called, wasn’t an ideal system, but what could anyone do? Turn a blind eye to the abuse, justify it by assuming that slaves preferred slavery, or shrug one’s shoulders and resign to the idea, “It is what it is.” It took exceedingly brave souls like Sarah Grimke to rise against the status quo and breathe fire on the dry straw of slavery. It had to go. The Peculiar Institution had to be destroyed. Are we different from the masses who vilified Sarah Grimke in the 19th century? We close our eyes to the grievous abuse brought upon drug slaves by staying away from those parts of our cities where it’s prevalent. We assume that drug slaves want to be enslaved; they were the dumbasses who got addicted in the first place, right? When we get glimpses of the disaster drug slavery causes, we say, “Oh well, it is what it is; people do drugs; what can you do?”

     A half-hearted attempt to make them more comfortable shows no compassion. Clean needles, free crack pipes and the occasional safe space only help to tighten the noose around the drug slave’s neck. We don’t want them to die quickly from an overdose, but how is it then okay for us to provide for them to die slowly in filth and misery?

      Holding the drug slave in contempt and calling him a criminal is not a solution either. Kick a man while he is down? Add more misery through the justice system? This is the opposite of compassion. We want to rescue slaves, not slap cuffs on them.

The Idea Behind the Action:

     Sarah Grimke could only speak up against slavery after she had concluded that it was wrong. In the same way, we need to decide that drug slavery is not okay. “It is what it is” and “Humans are going to take drugs, so let’s keep out of it.” are no longer appropriate perspectives. We cannot remain blind to drug slavery. Too many lives are being oppressed and destroyed. Finally, we must realize that drug slaves are people whose wills have been so overwhelmed by addiction that they are no longer in control of their lives. The path to freedom, then, is to take over some of that control so that they can eventually recover their will to break free from their enslavement.

A Rough Sketch on How to Take a Chunk out of Drug Slavery. 

     Drug slaves are welcomed into safe and secure places where they can’t obtain street drugs. These facilities will be clean, and entrance back onto the streets will be prevented. Because addiction is a tricky slave owner, many will be unable to emancipate themselves right away. Thus, a supply of clean drugs will be provided behind the locked doors of this safe space for as long as required. Remaining enslaved to drugs will come at the cost of re-admittance back into general society. Some drug slaves will be there for life, and that’s okay because, in this safe space, they will be cared for, respected and provided a secure supply of drugs. One thing is sure: they will not be left on the streets to rot and die in misery and despair. For all who are brought in, a team of professionals will be on hand, ready to help the drug slaves break their chains when they are ready. Only this sort of dramatic intervention will help diminish the crisis we are witnessing daily on our streets. A person qualifies for this level of care when they have been so overwhelmed by drug addiction that they can no longer appropriately house and feed themselves or meet their basic needs.

One Final Comparison

     My daughter came down with a terrible case of anorexia. It overwhelmed her will. The Eating Disorder took over her life. It became her slave owner. Death was the only outcome that would satisfy this brutal new master. We could neither sit back and make her as comfortable as possible while in the grip of her enslavement, she starved herself to death nor could we slap her around and treat her as a criminal for being stupid enough to catch the Eating Disorder. We had to intervene compassionately. An entire team of experts has been working tirelessly with our daughter for the last two years to free her from the chains of her eating disorder. We’ve had to step in and battle alongside her because she is not strong enough to emancipate herself.

     In the same way, we as a society have to step in and intervene on behalf of drug slaves. They are powerless to help themselves, and it’s wrong for us to remain ambivalent about their condition. We need another Sarah Gremke to reshape our thinking and action around this terrible version of slavery that has decimated so many in our day.

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2 Responses

  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and wrestlings. Many valid points.

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