Russell Brand was on Newsnight last Friday (10 August) in heated debate with Peter Hitchens (of the Daily Mail) about the appropriate methods to solve drug use in this country. Russell Brand advocates total abstinence, as he did through the help of the charity Focus12, and does not agree with the use of medically-prescribed methadone to wean heroin addicts off street drugs. He argues that methadone just keeps people still addicted and using, whereas compassion-based rehab groups that combine therapy and total abstinence actually stop people from using drugs, and therefore reduce crime and the other social costs associated with drug use. He even presented his views before the Home Affairs Select Committee. Peter Hitchens thinks that all drug users are selfish, self-indulged users, and seems to imply that the state should not spend any money or resources on helping them as they should help themselves. He also hates Russell Brand and was livid with the BBC for giving him the airtime on Newsnight and allowing him to front a documentary on drug use and not give Hitchens a programme too.
Hitchens might be glad to hear that he did appear on Brand’s BBC Three documentary when he was involved in a prior debate for Google chaired by Emily Maitlis on drug use. He pretty much had the same argument with Brand then. Although it is fairly easy to just hate on the Daily Mail, when Hitchens blusters and spouts illiberal nonsense, it’s hard not to hate on the paper and its journalists.
The soundtrack to this documentary features Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black and The Smith’s How Soon is Now and some Pete Docherty. The Smiths because Brand is a well known Morissey fan. Winehouse because Brand prefaces the documentary by visiting Mitch Winehouse and discussing the way in which he (Brand) always suspected that Winehouse would die of her addiction and how he feels he, as an example of a successful recover from drug and alcohol addiction, could have done something to help her.
It’s a well thought out and presented documentary. Whatever your views about Brand the comedian and celebrated personality, there is no denying that he was an addict and he is now clean (and has been for over 9 years). He knows what he’s talking about in terms of his own recovery. In the programme he talks to Chip Somers, director of Focus 12, his friends, a group called RAPT at Hemel Hempstead prison, Chief Supt Graham Bartlett in Brighton, various neurological experts, a leading GP who advocates methadone use and various drug users. The overwhelming message and argument concurs with Brand’s that it is by advocating abstinence. The Brighton Policeman in particular reveals how much money is saved by getting drug users off the drugs – some £250million I think for each 500 people – which should satisfy all those Tories out there too. The programme also follows Brand trying to encourage a woman called Karen, a heavy methadone and other drugs addict, to enter Focus12. In one of those follow up captions at the end of the programme we’re told that she did go to rehab but discharged herself after 3 weeks. It’s not easy and not everyone will be ‘cured’, especially those without any support networks around them – and I think this is what the programme reveals (without being conscious of it) that it is the lack of support networks around so many drug users which allows them to fall back into drugs or never get off them in the first place.
A good documentary. Shame it was on BBC Three and not one of the mainstream channels, but it was discussed on Newsnight and there’s not much more mainstream than that.