The Blog

The War On Drug Addicts

Russell Brand speaks sense. It's important that people recognise this, because it would be so easy to dismiss him. He's a comedian, therefore he masks a lot of his own serious emotions and insecurities in self-ridicule and jokes.

"It is something I consider to be an illness, and therefore more of health matter than a criminal or judicial matter. It is more important that we regard people suffering from addiction with compassion and there is a pragmatic rather than a symbolic approach to treating it."

Russell Brand speaks sense. It's important that people recognise this, because it would be so easy to dismiss him. He's a comedian, therefore he masks a lot of his own serious emotions and insecurities in self-ridicule and jokes. He is vain, therefore he dresses flamboyantly and is considered an extrovert. He is a celebrity, and should be vacuous - his views taken with a pinch of salt. However, unlike a lot of people in his position, he is also an addict. Not a reformed addict, as they do not exist, but instead, a life-long addict. And that is why on Tuesday afternoon at the House of Commons, Russell Brand brought to the table one of the most eloquent and well-thought-out views the Government has been privileged enough to hear. See also: Alex Reid last week discussing school lunches.

A distinct parallel from the inane mumblings of an cagefighter (I use that term loosely). Instead, by some considerable distance, Russell Brand impressed me the most I've ever been by anything he's ever said. Whilst the likes of The Daily Mail decided to talk about what he was wearing instead of what he said, he hit the nail on the head on so many different variables when it comes to drugs. Given the rough time the press has given him in the past, it's no surprise that whatever he said would be misconstrued by those in the gutter, the worst being a headline mocking him, 'cracking jokes'. As if he hadn't said a single thing of note. I'm not suprised they didn't just run a piece on his manager Russell Crowe sat directly him, almost ready to jump in as a stunt double, just incase anything did get a little "too out of hand".

I've been a fan of Russell Brand's comedy for quite some time now. He is an astonishing individual. A man who seems utterly unfazed by anyone or anything. He is made of solid self-confidence, which is made even more incredible when you read what he was like as a teenager (detailed in his first book). I recently discovered the RE:BRAND series he made with his writing partner Matt Morgan, a show which allowed Russell to blow £250,000 of a cable television channel's money on heroin and booze whilst trying to create a six-part series. The mayhem is evident, but yet it's totally compelling. In fact, it's a very emotional journey through some of life's taboos, dealt with enough compassion that the comedy is neither crass nor unappreciated. In fact, the whole thing is a mindtrip of it's own. You watch Russell share a bath with a homeless man he's invited to live with him in his own North London flat, only for the homeless chap to freak out that he's too far away from town to score dope and turn down a warm bed (and oddly, sharing a hot bath) to return to begging on Oxford Street. You can almost compensate with the homeless man and his decision to return to living rough. It's where he feels most comfortable.

So it was totally in Russell Brand's remit to head to the House of Commons to speak to those high-and-mighty about substance abuse. Afterall, he's seen it from both sides. And in a way most recreational users will never have to. Whilst drug use in the UK and indeed the first world is rife, it is also generally more of a "jump in a blokes car" or pick up from your dodgy mate affair, rather than sitting in crack dens trying to score off the nearest dealer sat around others with a needle sticking out of their arm. Writing about taking drugs is an incredibly difficult thing to do - especially if you don't want to sound pompous, and Russell Brand's biography once again is well worth visiting if you are intrigued by the depths to which he went to make sure his addictions were fulfilled. Even more inspiring is how he conquered them, much to thanks of Focus 12, a rehab centre ran by ex-convict and junkie Chip Somers, also present in front of the committee.

"My message is not for young people. It is for people that have this condition of addiction. If you have the condition of addiction, there is help available for you and I recommend abstinence-based recovery. I think some people can safely take drugs. I think they can. As long as it doesn't turn them into criminals, or harm their health, then I don't feel like it's any of my business. So I'm not here to do some 'Just Say No' stuff. Let's have an authoritative, truthful, honest debate and some funding for abstinence-based recovery."

Drug addiction should be treated as an illness for the benefit of both the users and society as a whole. It is pointless to treat it as a matter of law and order. It is, or can become, a serious mental illness which turns otherwise decent people into a danger both to themselves and others. As Russell rightly says, there is a difference between drug addicts and some people who are able to safely take drugs without it affecting their behaviour to a significant extent. But there is no way you can tell people to be personally responsible with their use because they just won't. If you have ever taken drugs, you will be fully aware that the one thing that disappears is the 'OFF' switch. It's invisible, and whilst for a lot of people, it finally fades back into vision, for addicts, it's permanently erased and only there in the first place because, well, they opened the door originally.

The problem is, it's impossible for that person to know that they're going to be the unlucky one. Of course there are signs. Emotionally vulnerable, addictive personality, history of addiction previously in your family, but even then, that's not to say you'll inherit these traits when using drugs. Ultimately, what Russell Brand hit the nail on the head with was the removal of 'tough love' by the authorities and instead, to install a level of compassion to those who seriously need help. Much is made of heroin addicts, they are by far the worst casualties, and most likely to die way before a pothead, but there is still no education in this country about the warning signs of addiction. Cocaine being the perfect example, a drug that has an addiction that creeps up slowly on you, and becomes a dependence sometimes only when you don't realise, such as under the influence on alcohol, unlike a day-to-day urge such as heroin or crack cocaine.

The guy who tries to give up cigarettes but caves in when he is drunk is the same as that guy who once he's had a few pints, fancies upping the odds and having a cheeky line of cocaine. It's all tolerance, and the same as the boozer who decides to move onto spirits when the pints are slowing him down, ends up on shots and when everybody else is in the kebab shop queue, he's in the off-licence stocking up on a "nightcap" with no real interest in slowing down until he, eventually, may pass out. You see it in all walks of life, from the poorest to the high-flying millionaires. Yet despite the fact we are a country hung up on 'binge culture', there has been no real warning signs that as adults, amidst being liberal, enlightening, cool or socially-acceptable regarding drug use, that an addiction or dependence can occur in a much more clouded way than is noted in the public press.

Decriminalisation is a very hot topic now. I think more people are starting to see the whole thing more logically in the recent months having seen a lot more articles on the 'war against drugs' campaign which has obviously failed. If we are to treat drug use as an addiction, then we must accept that there will always be drug addicts. And as soon as we accept that, then we have to allow addicts to be supplied legally in a regulated market. Otherwise, we create demand for a product which only violent criminals can supply. As the former president of Mexico Vincente Fox points out, 50,000 people have died in Mexico thanks to the war on drugs. Those are the people we should have compassion for, not the addicts in the West. For their sake, it is time to legalise

Whilst Russell Brand was a heroin addict, there have been many high profile breakdowns of stars who have never injected or smoked brown. From supermodels to television actors to world famous film stars, the rich and famous have suffered in the same way that invincible rock stars such as Keith Richards and Iggy Pop have not. That's because everybody is different in their tolerances, their emotions and their attitudes. Some people are strong and can go out on a weekend and spend three days high as a kite, and shake it off by Monday evening. Some people have a drink on a Thursday night and they're jobless by Monday evening. It's just the way the dice rolls, and if it could be recognised that there are so many stages of addiction that could prevent the full-scale casualties, then we might end up moving forward when it comes to the issue of sensible drug use.

As Bill Hicks once said, "If you don't think drugs have done good things for us, then take all of your records, tapes and CD's and burn them." Bill was right in the sense that some of the most magical music in the past few decades has been thanks to illegal substances, but what he fails to mention are that most of these people are either dead, vegetables, or reformed characters that got out before it was too late. Russell Brand is the perfect example of a person who went head-first into a mad, crazy world of shoving everything up his nose and "living the dream", only to be spat back out of it at a crucial moment in his life when it was make or break. A lot of these artists who created drug-influenced classic records were also comfortable in their success, established artists, compared to Russell Brand who at the time of his rehabilitation, was simply a small speck of the talent that he is today. I think all credit is due to his management for persevering with him, I doubt many would have seen past the drugs and noticed his potential. The bottom line is: Not everybody gets the second chance that Russell Brand did. And not everybody gets the love that he did.

"What we need is a degree of authenticity and compassion in the way we deal with this problem. Otherwise you just seem like you don't know what you're talking about. Penalising people for possession of drugs is costly and expensive. The costs would be better spent, I think, on education and treatment. I'm not a legal expert, but I'm saying that to a drug addict the legal status is irrelevant. It is at best an inconvenience. If you need to get drugs because you're a drug addict, you're going to get drugs regardless of their legal status. Making it illegal is not working anyway. Being arrested isn't a lesson. It's just an administrative blip. There is some confusion and ignorance around addiction and it's quite understandable because a lot of drug addicts are a public nuisance in many ways. It wasn't until I had access to abstinence-based recovery that I was able to change my behaviour and significantly reduce, all but obliterate my criminal activity. Apart from the occasional skirmish."

I worry about this country and how socially accepted getting 'fucked up' has become. It's applauded in some circles. It's the norm in others. I always thought it was a big city thing, but I've witnessed people staying up for days in small towns all over the country. I've seen highly educated people piss it all up the wall because they went in too deep. I've seen people with no hope to start with make sure they'll never turn it around. Drugs are fucking dangerous and anyone who has been through hell with them will confirm that. The idea that they are a glamorous or a 'fun' way of life is a completely delusional one. Russell Brand is a model student nowadays, but there are hundreds of people in the public eye who take no shame of their drug use. It is not rock n roll to get fucked up. It's more rock n roll to fucking make something of yourself. I've become a convert of the opinion that it's actually cooler not needing to intoxicate yourself to have fun. Whilst we all find ourselves in dreadful situations from time to time and it's so easy to go for that big escape, tackling your problems head-on and with a clear head definitely works much better than any line of coke or shot of tequila ever will.

Ultimately, drugs aren't going away. I know that. You know that. People will keep taking drugs, legal or illegal. Kids will keep experimenting, and scientists and dealers will keep coming up with new ways to produce or market them. People will have fun on them, and I've been to enough festivals and parties to realise that. But I've also seen people sat in toilet cubicles on their own snorting lumps of ketamine at 5am in the morning or friendship groups having their dynamics totally altered once their 'man' has dropped off their grams and their nights suddenly immediately going stale apart from the 'rush'. We've already had our hand forced into the 'rat race', why force yourself into an impossible race, the 'chase', that drugs shove you into - trying to find that first buzz, that will never, ever, come. Ever.

Ultimately, drugs are illegal for a reason. And they do ruin lives. And I'm not just talking physically. I'm talking mentally. And most crucially, emotionally. Ask anybody coming home from four days on it at Glastonbury how they feel and you'll start to understand. Then ask a regular cocaine user how they feel. Compare their reflexes with someone who is fit and healthy and hasn't fried their brain. Something has to give and although I am trying my very best to detail the dangers of recreational drug use, I can't really confirm my bottom line on this. I've seen people have the best times of their lives on drugs. I've had a few myself. But I've also seen peoples lives ripped apart by them. People really do lose everything: from girlfriends to houses to their lives. And if people could just take that reality a little more seriously and be shown more examples of how ordinary folk have suffered, maybe then we'd not all try to be so fucking hip about it all.