The question of control

2018-07-26

in Canada, Law, Politics, Psychology

The question of control is a touchy one. No segment of the population feels powerlessness more acutely than Downtown Eastside drug addicts. Even the average citizen finds it difficult to question medical authority, for a host of cultural and psychological reasons. As an authority figure, the doctor triggers deeply ingrained feelings of childhood powerlessness in many of us—I had that experience even years after completing medical training when I needed care for myself. But in the case of the drug addict, the disempowerment is real, palpable and quite in the present. Engaged in illegal activities to support her habit—her very habit being illegal—she is on all sides hemmed in by laws, rules and regulations. It occurs to me at times that, in the view of my addicted patients, the roles of detective, prosecutor and judge are grafted onto my duties as a physician. I am there not only as a healer, but also as an enforcer.

Coming most commonly from a socially deprived background and having passed through courts and prisons repeatedly, the Downtown Eastside addict is unaccustomed to challenging authority directly. Dependent on the physician for her lifeline methadone prescription, she is in no position to assert herself. If she doesn’t like her doctor, she has little latitude to seek care elsewhere: downtown clinics are not eager to accept each other’s “problem” clients. Many addicts speak bitterly about medical personnel who, they find, impose their “my-way-or-the-highway” authority with arrogance and insensitivity. In any confrontation with authority, be it nurse, doctor, police officer or hospital security guard, the addict is virtually helpless. No one will accept her side of the story—or act on it even if they do.

Maté, Gabor. In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction. 2012. p. 48–9

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