Russell Brand on Newsnight

Written by Pat O'Hare.

Last week, Newsnight hosted a discussion on drug policy, starring that well-known expert on drugs, Russell Brand. The BBC have decided that Russell Brand can make a documentary film in which he will tell us what we should be doing about drugs, or rather what we should be doing to people who use drugs.

He was interviewed by a star-struck Stephanie Flanders, a (normally excellent) economics expert, who let him spout his views unchallenged, although she did ask him how he was qualified to offer a blueprint for the future. His answer was that he used to take drugs, which itself went unchallenged. For the only time in my life, I yearned for Jeremy Paxman. (For a discussion on whether that qualifies him to tell us all what we should be doing, read this excellent article by Yasmin Alibhai-Brown in the Independent, in which she argues, successfully in my view, that experience is not the same as expertise.)

My way, the only way

For Brand, the government is doing the wrong thing in giving people methadone, and the only way is abstinence-based recovery. He believes that we shouldn't give people methadone because it is a drug, and they shouldn't be taking drugs. I take three drugs a day and they deal with a medical condition that I have. Presumably Russell Brand thinks I shouldn't be taking them because they are drugs. However, if he believes that drug "addiction" is a disease, should that not lead him to believe that the correct medication, or drug, one of which is methadone, should be prescribed?

His "empirical understanding" leads him to believe that drug users are people of "deep sadness and malady" who have a disease or disorder and who spend their lives doing silly and irrational things over which they have no control because they are using drugs. They are not themselves.

While not wanting to make light of the problems which can face some people who use drugs, legal and illegal, I have always believed that people take drugs, not the other way round. Most of the heroin users I have known have spent most of their lives doing very rational and well thought out things in order to have the money to buy their drugs.

This really is the cult of celebrity gone mad. While I believe that everyone has the right to express their point to view, for the BBC to give Brand such a platform could have serious implications for policy, which is supposed to be for the many, not the few, and will further contribute to the marginalization and stigmatization of people who choose not to be abstinent.

This Hot Topic is by HIT's Director Pat O'Hare who has been involved in the development and promotion of drug services since the 1980s, Pat is also on the board of Harm Reduction International (HRI) and the Middle East & North Africa Harm Reduction Association (MENAHRA).

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