ROME – Drugs “are a wound in our society, a venom that corrodes, corrupts and kills,” Pope Francis said on Thursday, addressing more than 50 experts from around the world, including scientists, judges, politicians and religious.

He also denounced that those who want to fight this “new form of slavery” are met with “the mafia.”

“It is not surprising that so many people fall into the dependence of drugs, for worldliness offers us a wide range of possibilities to achieve ephemeral happiness, which in the end becomes a venom, that corrodes, corrupts and kills,” he said.

Those who fall under the traps of this “chemical” form of slavery, Francis said, are destroyed by it, and those around them too.

“The initial desire to escape, that peruse of momentary happiness, becomes the devastation of the person in its integrity, impacting on all social strata,” he added.

Francis’s words came as he was addressing the November 23-24 workshop “Narcotics: Problems and Solutions of this Global Issue,” organized by the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Sciences.

Narcotics or opiates include heroin, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine and morphine.

The program looked at the history of drug use; how drugs are being produced, distributed and consumed; and preventing substance abuse, especially in children and young people.

There are many reasons, the pontiff said in his remarks, for a person to become a drug addict: from lack of family support, to social pressure, traffickers doing propaganda and the “desire to live new experiences.”

Each drug addict has a personal life experience that has to be heard, comprehended and as soon as possible, healed, he said.

“We cannot fall into the injustice of classifying a drug addict as if he [or she] was an object or broken junk,” Francis said, calling instead for their rehabilitation.

The Argentine pontiff began fighting what he’s on occasion called “the scourge” of drugs since he was still Archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio, of Buenos Aires.

Speaking of his own country- and in front of several fellow countrymen who are in a position to do something about it- he regretted that in three decades, Argentina went from being a country of transit to being both consumer and producer of narcotics.

Always willing to give examples from those days, Francis on Thursday spoke about a judge whom he knew had begun working “seriously” against drug dealing in Argentina, and was soon threatened via post mail: he’d received a family picture with a note detailing the school his son went to and his wife’s routine.

“When one looks for the networks to fight drugs one is in front of a mafia, because those who want to destroy this slavery are killed,” he denounced, in remarks he delivered in Spanish, often veering off text.

Francis acknowledged that a lot of ground has to be covered to address the “destructive” problem of drugs, among other things because of the amount and reach of the production and distribution networks.

These networks, he said, allow for the death of a person, not only in a physical way, but also psychologically and socially.

“[It’s] the throwing away of a person,” he said.

These vast networks, he charged, have reached those in positions of leadership in societies and in governments, saying that the distribution system is in fact, a bigger part of these networks of organized crime than the product itself.

“A challenge is to identify a way to control the system of corruption and the ways of laundering money,” Francis said, adding that there are banks around the world who are dedicated to doing this.

Lastly, he said that it’s imperative to create and implement comprehensive programs to stop the demand of narcotics. These programs should touch not only the health issues related to drug consumption, but also help provide family support, and above all, they should include education.

“The integral human formation is the priority,” Francis said. “It gives people the possibility of having instruments for discerning, with which to reject the different [drug] offers and help others.”

However, he added, programs of drug prevention are always halted by “a thousand and one” factors of governmental ineptitude.

The Argentine pope has been very outspoken in the fight against narcotics.

When speaking to the United Nations’ General Assembly in 2015, Pope Francis said the narcotics trade was waging a new kind of war on society, calling it “a war which is taken for granted and poorly fought” in part because of corruption on multiple levels.

“Drug trafficking is, by its very nature, accompanied by trafficking in persons, money laundering, the arms trade, child exploitation and other forms of corruption,” he said.

When meeting drug enforcement personnel in 2014, Francis also condemned the legalization of recreational drugs, saying such measures were “not only highly questionable from a legislative standpoint, but they fail to produce the desired effects.

“No to every type of drug use. It is as simple as that,” he said.