I’m not a fan of either of these high profile addiction experts, but Stanton Peele’s recounting of his meeting with Gabor Maté illuminates a lot about both men and their approach to addiction. It also helps in understanding the conceptual boundaries of harm reduction, at least as Peele sees them. The boundaries are more rigid than I would have imagined.
Seeking common ground with Gabor, I noted his work with psychedelics as a chance to teach people how to manage drug experiences. But he told me that teaching people competency in drug use is the last thing on his mind. I emailed him in March this year:
I DO like this title—Substance Use Competency. It is interesting to play that idea out—including dealing with people’s traumas (without allowing them to grow to life-overcoming proportions) while also actually teaching them to manage substance use (as you are doing in Mexico). Perhaps we can combine around this.
Gabor responded by rapping my knuckles:
We are not teaching substance use competency with this process. The goal and process is to help people shed the physical and psychological patterns of old trauma, so that they are no longer trapped in the past. If successful, substance use is no longer an imperative. [My emphases.]
The last thing in the world Maté wants people to do is to take drugs as a normal part of life experience. In this way, he is no more a harm reductionist than Nancy Reagan.
Hmmm. Like I said, I’m no fan of Maté, but the goal of eliminating substance use as an imperative puts one in the same category as Nancy Reagan? Count me in that club.