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Russell Brand, expert witness.
May 12, 2012 2:33 PM   Subscribe

Russell Brand testifies to UK Parliament's Home Affairs Committee on drug policy. (SLYT; alternatively: mp3 audio link, starts at 5:55.) [via]

BBC news summary. Interestingly hostile Guardian take (and caption contest); he was invited alongside Chip Somers, who runs Focus 12, the rehabilitation facility through whose abstinence-based treatment Brand overcame his own heroin addiction.
posted by progosk (26 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Better Russell Brand than Elmo.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:44 PM on May 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am not convinced that abstinence based addiction is useful, do medical studies not tell us that harm based reduction models makes thing safer for everybody? Does abstinence based models mean that places like safe injection sites will not be funded? Have we not found that safe injection sites help prevent ODs, and reduce rates of HIV/Hep, etc?
posted by PinkMoose at 3:17 PM on May 12, 2012


This — from an organisation mentioned in the article — is gold, would put one in mind of Reefer Madness:

“KNOW YOUR DOPE FIEND. YOUR LIFE MAY DEPEND ON IT! You will not be able to see his eyes because of the Tea-Shades, but his knuckles will be white from inner tension and his pants will be crusted with semen from constantly jacking off when he can't find a rape victim. He will stagger and babble when questioned. He will not respect your badge. The Dope Fiend fears nothing. He will attack, for no reason, with every weapon at his command-including yours. BEWARE. Any officer apprehending a suspected marijuana addict should use all necessary force immediately. One stitch in time (on him) will usually save nine on you.”
posted by nfg at 3:24 PM on May 12, 2012


I am not convinced that abstinence based addiction is useful, do medical studies not tell us that harm based reduction models makes thing safer for everybody? Does abstinence based models mean that places like safe injection sites will not be funded? Have we not found that safe injection sites help prevent ODs, and reduce rates of HIV/Hep, etc?

I think it's a matter of yes, there are ways to minimize harm, but people really need to be functional in society rather than treading water and they put forward abstinence based recovery as a way to turn addicts into (for lack of a better word) "proper", productive members of society. Some people just don't have the ability to be disciplined in moderating their use of addictive substances and they probably need to stay away from them as much as possible.

The more ways we can attack the type of addiction that controls and ruins people's lives the better IMHO. No person is beyond help, as easy it would be to think otherwise, and we as a society cannot give up on them.
posted by Talez at 3:27 PM on May 12, 2012


The more ways we can attack the type of addiction that controls and ruins people's lives the better IMHO.

I think this is the key. People are different. Injecting rooms are useful. Abstinence-based programs are useful (been working for me). Medication-based programs are useful. But they all have to be available, rather than basing drug policy on locking people up or forgetting them.
posted by Jimbob at 4:07 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Why is anyone listening to Russell Brand about anything at all?
posted by cmoj at 4:07 PM on May 12, 2012 [5 favorites]


Is it me, or is Russel Brand freakishly eloquent?

I would not have expected him to speak so well.

I consider myself pretty articulate, but I couldn't have constructed some of those sentences off-the-cuff.
posted by kinsey at 4:12 PM on May 12, 2012 [4 favorites]


Is it me, or is Russel Brand freakishly eloquent?

(previously.)
posted by progosk at 4:18 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


That Guardian article was fatuous. Brand had points to make and made them with great eloquence. Even if you disagree with him he is a UK citizen and has a right to be there.

Though ironically the Guardian article was too busy harping on his celebrity to say what Brand's actual position was.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:15 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


nfg, that is a passage from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I would question its validity as an authentic article.
posted by item at 5:17 PM on May 12, 2012


Thing is Russel Brand's eloquence comes across as a performance, something that he has practiced as a mechanism to entertain or stand out.

He certainly has good intentions but I think the reality is his ideas on this matter are fairly trivial and about as valid as the other bloke down the pub.

Brand clearly has fun performing in front of the inquiry and I think this enjoyment somewhat betrays what he is really after, attention. He also seems to take enjoyment in his own reputation of being the circumlocutory geezer, an enigma of a common man. Anyone who believes their own hype is probably not as greater thinker as they would have you believe.
posted by stephencarr at 5:18 PM on May 12, 2012 [2 favorites]


Russell Brand talking reminds me of myself at 2am after half a bottle of whisky. I'm not sure how I feel about that.
posted by lucidium at 5:19 PM on May 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think more enquiries should call up the other bloke down the pub, to be honest.
posted by Jimbob at 8:06 PM on May 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love that Russel Brand exists. He is crazy, and also freakishly smart and eloquent. I like to think he is our modern day Oscar Wilde except all twisted and post-heroin-y. If you think he isn't self aware of the ridiculous and vacuous nature of fame, check the interview with Jeremy Paxman or the talk he gave at Cambridge. The dudes got something going on upstairs.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:35 PM on May 12, 2012 [3 favorites]


He certainly has good intentions but I think the reality is his ideas on this matter are fairly trivial and about as valid as the other bloke down the pub.

This was most evident when the MP's asked him about the evidence supporting his advocacy for the effectiveness of abstinence-based treatment, as opposed to other forms of treatment for heroin addiction such as methadone maintenance, subutex and suboxone and heroin assisted therapy.

At that point, he begins to dissemble and tap-dance because he really hasn't got a jar of fucking glue. He's there to pimp the case for more resources for his buddy's rehab and that's what he's gonna do regardless, goddamit!

In fact, his position is utterly incoherent and completely lacking in any reading of the evidence. It's really just more of the 'this worked for me, so everybody needs to do this' bullshit that has plagued the addiction treatment field for most of its history.

The UK is at a critical juncture with regard to drug policy -- particularly in respect of drug treatment. Over the last ten years, we've worked incredibly hard to ensure that NICE-validated evidence based treatment is available throughout England at least. (Scotland, Ireland and Wales do their own fucked up shit.) With the election of the Con-Dem coalition, there have been significant attempts to dismantle that and return to time-limited treatment that puts abstinence before people's well-being. (See, for example, the moronic campaigns fought by people like Cathy Gyngell and Addiction Today.)

Brand is a know-nothing celebrity being wheeled out in service of that faction. He's smart, so if he thought about it for more than five minutes, the contradictions in his position would immediately become clear to him -- which is why he was flustered when the politicians asked him about the evidence for his position.

But like most celebrities, he tends to think that his own shit doesn't stink, and what he says has value, regardless of how little real thought he's actually put into it.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:39 PM on May 12, 2012 [10 favorites]


PeterMcDermott, is your "we" literal? Your vehemence seems to stem from direct involvement. In which case, a question: uncoupled from the type of treatment that he is advocating, are Brand's other points equally to be discarded? As an outsider to the matter, it seems to me that those were much more fundamental points, and it is rare to hear them being made so frankly/passionately/coherently. (I for one do not take Brand's plea to be shtick, here.)
posted by progosk at 12:51 AM on May 13, 2012


That's the UK for you, isn't it PeterMcDermott. I still remember seeing Leah Betts' father wheeled out to comment on Ricuarte's research that supposedly showed MDMA damaged dopamine receptors. He said something about how obvious it was that of course you were affecting dopamine when you took these drugs (and, of course, was wrong - Ricuarte used methamphetamine not MDMA). The guy was an ex-police officer whose sole knowledge of the issue was his daughter's tragic death.

Meanwhile David Nutt gets fired.

Completely ridiculous the way anecdote over-rides science.
posted by Infinite Jest at 2:17 AM on May 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


PeterMcDermott, is your "we" literal? Your vehemence seems to stem from direct involvement.

I've spent most of the last ten years or so as a board member of the National Treatment Agency, so yes, it's kind of literal.

In which case, a question: uncoupled from the type of treatment that he is advocating, are Brand's other points equally to be discarded?

I don't think you can uncouple the points. If you want a system of legal drug distribution, I believe things like product liability mean that you're not really going to get it outside of a treatment system. Drug production and distribution is so entwined with global organized crime, that it seems unlikely that any government is just going to concede the market to those groups and totally ignore any consumer protection.

In the main, people in the UK don't really go to prison for drug possession. Not in significant numbers. People go to prison for production, distribution or for acquisitive crime committed to support drug habits. Sometimes, the police fuck with this last group when they start to cause a nuisance in a particular area, and possession charges are one of the ways they deploy the fuckery, but by and large, nobody goes to prison for it.

And of course, in pretty well every bar and club in town, there'll be huge numbers of people possessing and using recreational drugs like powder cocaine and MDMA. Nobody gives a fuck. We don't really enforce those laws. We adopt a public health approach to dealing with them -- even if you do happen to get arrested -- for fighting or some public disorder offence -- and test positive or are found in possession, what you'll get is mandated treatment -- two or three counselling sessions to figure out if you have a problem you need help with. No biggy.

So what Brand's stupid views with regard to drug treatment actually does, in my view, is completely undermine the prospects of the stuff that he says he'd like to see with regard to enforcement. Because by undermining the only real avenue that we have for legal distribution, he effectively condemns everyone to participate in the illicit market and criminalizes large numbers of people who we've currently removed from that market.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:43 AM on May 13, 2012 [8 favorites]


Just to understand better:

We adopt a public health approach to dealing with them

This seemed to be Brand's main starting position, to approach the issue as a health problem, instead of as a criminal problem - so is this a point he didn't even need to make? (It didn't sound like that; of course it's difficult to tell form an external point of view, so it's interesting that you are saying that you/the NTA are on the same footing with Brand on this.)

If you want a system of legal drug distribution [...] you're not really going to get it outside of a treatment system

Was Brand arguing against a treatment system? (Or, for that matter, necessarily for a system of legal drug distribution?) Sounded more like he was trying to cut through some of the hypocrisy and bad metaphors, so as to stimulate thinking along pragmatic and compassionate lines (with the added aim of "full recovery").

What I'm also not understanding: how is calling for more research and funds for abstinence-based treatment "undermining the only real avenue that we have for legal distribution", as you put it? Is it such a black and white matter (as PinkMoose asked: "Does abstinence based models mean that places like safe injection sites will not be funded?")?

Also, given your insider's point of view: how is Talez/JimBob's reasoning - multiple approaches to fit various needs - not the right line of thinking?
posted by progosk at 3:18 AM on May 13, 2012


Was Brand arguing against a treatment system?

He was arguing for the effectiveness of an abstinence-based treatment system and, by ignoring the evidence that such systems are not as effective as treatment systems that involve legal drug distribution, undermining support for the more politically controversial latter system.

That Guardian article was fatuous. Brand had points to make and made them with great eloquence. Even if you disagree with him he is a UK citizen and has a right to be there.

The article (a blog entry on the Guardian site) was claiming that Brand was not there as a representative of UK citizens, nor even as a representative of ex-drug addicts, but because of his celebrity. Given that the author also attacked the appearance of Amy Winehouse's father in front of the home affairs select committee two and a half years ago, it seems more likely that her motivation is, as she claims, concern that the committee system is being trivialised rather than dislike of Brand or his views. Select committees should be looking for evidence, not eloquence.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 8:33 AM on May 13, 2012 [4 favorites]


One concern I have about the testimony of celebrity addicts is that they given an inherently distorted account of addiction and recovery.

Celebrities don't have to take risks to get drugs, or debase themselves or victimize others to fund their addiction: they are surrounded by people who will give them all the drugs or booze they want.

Celebrities' intermittent requirements to work (or, if rich enough, their entire lack of need to work) and their employers, patrons, and fans accomodations to them, profoundly mitigates impact of addiction and recovery upon job performance in a way that is unavailable to people.

The public expects celebrities, addiction aside, to have incredibly disfunctional romantic and familial relationships, and as such the impact of addiction and recovery upon those relationships can go unnoticed.
posted by MattD at 9:43 AM on May 13, 2012


Russell Brand is just a classic AA celebrity with nothing to offer the world other than his own love of himself and his life now that he's clean.

He went straight from an AA meeting about how we've all got to respect and love each other to doing a radio show in which he phoned up an 80 year old man while Jonathan Ross, paid 6 million pounds a year out of UK taxpayers' money, whooped 'he fucked your granddaughter!'.

You ever spend 30 seconds in the company of these kind of guys and you're ready to trash your whole life on booze and coke straight away.
posted by colie at 1:04 PM on May 13, 2012


Drug production and distribution is so entwined with global organized crime, that it seems unlikely that any government is just going to concede the market to those groups and totally ignore any consumer protection.

Except for all the governments (which is virtually all of them) that have done just that.
posted by telstar at 1:16 PM on May 13, 2012


I love that Russel Brand exists. He is crazy, and also freakishly smart and eloquent.

Yes! <3 for Russell Brand!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:29 PM on May 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow. So much hostility for RB here. I have no doubt that he splits the population with his ebullient personality, but I'm not sure he deserves this magnitude of derision. If he was all suit-wearing and English stolid behaviour, he'd be attracting "inauthentic!" charges. The guy is a bit spacey, rather eloquent and has a life history that qualifies his testimony in whatever manner he wants to deliver it.

Now, I don't want to get into arguments - obviously I'm only voicing my own opinion - but I don't regard it as a negative that RB bangs on about abstinence-only treatment and is at a loss to back it up with persuasive data. He said on numerous occasions that he's not qualified to comment on large slices of the drug scourge (legalities and legislation particularly) and it seems to me a totally allowed prejudice that he should advocate for a treatment regime that got him clean and is run by the fellow that is sitting right bloody next to him. He agreed on a couple of occasions that further studies were warranted.

The most obvious positions that RB carries water for are the demonstration of compassion, the skew towards treatment over criminal & policing measures and the positives of the abstinence-only approach. I don't believe for one second that he is anti- other forms of help though. These 2 are not in favour of methadone, sure, but I don't believe either were over-the-top assertive against it : they just, for instance, don't believe that it's as good as cessation of drugs.

I congratulate RB on keeping to those few aims with his testimony. I can only hope that other witnesses to the commission (or whatever it is) provide similar recommendations.

Thanks for the post progosk.
posted by peacay at 8:02 AM on May 14, 2012 [2 favorites]


peacay nailed it.
posted by lazaruslong at 8:06 AM on May 14, 2012


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