One of the six realms on the Buddhist Wheel of Life is the Hungry Ghost Realm, its inhabitants “creatures with scrawny necks, small mouths, emaciated limbs and large, bloated, empty bellies. This is the domain of addiction.”

A ravaged German-Canadian man is one day quoting the final lines of Goethe’s Faust, the next delivering a drug-fuelled anti-Semitic diatribe; a woman, very pregnant and intent on keeping her baby, is found beaten up on the sidewalk and screaming for drug money: these are among the hungry ghosts Dr. Gabor Maté encounters in his job as resident doctor at the Portland Hotel on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.