During a “very friendly conversation,” last Saturday, the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, invited the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, to the White House ~ knowing that seven months ago (10/16), in response to the presence of three million drug addicts in his country, President Duterte was quoted in the New York Times as saying, “I’d be happy to slaughter them” and then he went on to cite Hitler’s actions during the Holocaust ~ adding that his own version of the Final Solution would, “finish the problem of my country.”
The President of the Philippines made no mention of addiction as a disease, an epidemic, a plea for help, or a need for treatment. Addiction is, to him, a scourge running rampant in people who need not necessarily be rounded-up and shipped off to a concentration camp to be eliminated. The persons afflicted with addiction, according to President Duterte, could simply be shot in the streets. What other “problem of my country” would the President Duterte address by slaughtering them? Diabetics? Think of how many “Handicap Parking” spaces he could free-up in Manila by eliminating people with a physical mobility “problem”
At this point in a painful conversation like this; many people and agencies in the recovery community blurt-out that recovery should stay clear of politics and other “outside influences.” But addiction is saturated with politics. Addiction recovery service providers and advocacy groups routinely visit elected officials, protest harmful legislation, petition compassionate citizens, educate the populace against using words like “junkie” and “alkie” that stigmatize persons who are afflicted with “substance use disorder” (as opposed to engaging in “substance abuse”).
It is time to speak up about this too! All treatment centers, recovery alliances, associations, groups, individuals, fellowships and others directly involved in or affected by addiction should demand that the invitation to President Duterte to visit the White House be withdrawn until he issues a public disavowal and revocation of his comments and actions that advocate and tolerate the mass murder of victims of the disease of addiction. Those individuals, families, churches, synagogues and other faith institutions who are not directly affected by addiction (if you can find any) should do likewise.
It is not even clear that President Duterte would be granted a visa to the United States were he not a head of state; but let’s assume this withdrawal of the invitation will not take place and Duterte finds himself plopped down on an expensive couch in the White House. It is then that Presidents Trump and Duterte can take a cue from Pope Francis who, more than once, requested to wash the feet of drug addicts in a treatment center. If that seems a bit too much for these two Presidents ~ then they can at least travel together from the White House to the sober house; from a reception center to a treatment center in Washington D.C. for a visit to those trying desperately to recover from the ravages of addiction. The way this epidemic is raging through our country ~ it will probably be a very short, and profoundly meaningful trip from which they may return transformed.
Dwight Lee Wolter is the pastor of the Congregational Church of Patchogue on Long Island, New York. He is also the author of several books in the field of addiction, including three on forgiveness.