Comedian turned politico Russell Brand is well versed in talking bollocks. Most of what comes out of his mouth or flows from his pen is rarely worthy of comment, yet his latest ‘contribution’ to the drugs debate following the tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman from an overdose is not only inane, but positively harmful.
Certainly, the fact that Brand is an ex-addict himself may equip him to contribute to the drugs debate, and yes, he is right to draw attention to the inefficacy of current drug laws and the futile war on drugs. But for Brand to suggest that the recent death of Philip Seymour Hoffman was an inevitable consequence of those laws, as he did in a recent piece for the Guardian, is nonsense. While there are many arguments for decriminalising Class A drugs, a mere change in the law would not have prevented the tragic loss of Philip Seymour Hoffman. He was an addict with a long-standing history of substance abuse, and while there are many Class A drug users out there who manage to avoid the downward spiral into serious addiction, Hoffman didn’t. It is saddening whenever a human life is lost to drug addiction; that Hoffman was such a huge talent with so much more to give and achieve makes that loss all the more tragic. Yet his death was not ‘inevitable’, as Brand erroneously claims. It was an accident, albeit one aided by his own life choices and actions.
There is certainly validity in the argument that criminalisation makes drug use potentially more dangerous. At present, supply of drugs is controlled by criminal organisations who, in an effort to increase margins, ‘cut’ pure drugs with other dangerous substances, making the concentration of the drug more difficult to predict and harm or overdose more likely. However, Hoffman’s death was ultimately a consequence of his own misadventures, not current drug laws.
The most serious of Brand’s claims is that Philip Seymour Hoffman was a ‘victim’ of current drug legislation. Depicting those who seek their thrills in the artificial highs offered by drugs or who seek escape from their personal realities as ‘victims’ is not only mistaken, it is deeply damaging. Bestowing on such individuals the status of the victim is tantamount to saying that we as human beings have no control or volition over our own behaviour, that we are mere slaves to our impulses, totally lacking in self-will and the capacity to change our self-destructive behaviour. It is dehumanising because it robs us of our self-determination and our only means of influencing our lives: our human agency. Having worked in an alcohol and drug rehab centre in the past, and lost a friend to drug addiction, I am in no doubt that addicts need help, but they also need to take responsibility for their own choices and take steps to help themselves.
Humans have long relied on intoxicating substances to alter their states of consciousness or to numb the pain of negative life experiences; it is part of the human condition. Yet we need to ask ourselves why so many people today find their lives so lacking in purpose that they feel the need to resort to the artificial highs offered by drugs to inject a modicum of joy or meaning into them, or why others feel so demoralised that they depend on drugs as a means to escape from reality. As long as people feel the need for drugs there will always be fatalities, regardless of what laws are in place governing their use.