Russell Brand and Peter Hitchens on Drugs

When I originally posted this video on another blog I wrote:

It’s hard to know what to say about Peter Hitchens – he displays a level of ignorance surpassed only by politicians and right wing journalists. Oh wait, Hitchens is a right wing journalist. You have to wonder what drugs The Economist journalist Edward Lucas was on when he described him as, “a forceful, tenacious, eloquent and brave journalist [who] lambasts woolly thinking.”

Quite how Russell Brand restrains himself as much as he does is impressive – and he’s right about one thing: Hitchens does look like something out of The Wind in the Willows.

Surprisingly, Hitchens himself responded, quite rightly pointing out that I was offering little in the way of a detailed rebuttal of his position on drugs. He commented, “So, once the abuse has been discounted, what is that you disagree with me about, and why?”

Here’s my response:

It’s hard to know where to begin, Peter!

Your complete lack of sympathy for drug addicts is something I disagree with wholeheartedly, along with your antiquated view of them as people of moral failing who should be locked up in their droves, surrounded by readily available drugs. You seem to have no grasp of the neurology of addiction, otherwise you would understand that drugs act in a way which has a very strong impact on a person’s free will. An extreme example of this would be scopolamine (, but other more commonly used hard drugs act on the brain in similar ways.

Loss of control resulting directly from the biochemical reactions is an essential element to the discussion of how to deal with drug addiction, and means understanding that it needs to be treated as a health issue as much as a legal one. You won’t find a single medical study recommending prison as the best form of treatment (but then it’s pretty clear, given your lack of sympathy, that you have no interest in seeing these people treated).

Tackling the socio-economic conditions around the use of hard drugs might be a good idea, too – contrary to your view that most hard drug users in the West are decadent, self-indulgent, middle class young people, the fact is the largest demographic of users are poor. The NHS Statistics on Drug Misuse 2010 states: “Adults living in a household in the lowest income group (£10,000 or less) had the highest levels of any last year drug use (12.4%) and last year Class A drug use (4.0%) compared with all other income groups (for example, compared with 7.1% and 2.9% respectively of adults living in a household with an income of £50,000 or more) … In men, the prevalence of drug dependence increased as equivalised household income decreased, ranging from 2.1% of those in the highest income quintile to 9.6% of those in the lowest quintile. A similar pattern was seen in women though the highest prevalence of drug dependence was found in the second lowest income quintile (4.6%). Only 0.1% of women in the highest income quintile were assessed as drug dependent.”

Many of these addicts turned to drugs from a lack of prospects and a desire for a form of escapism, not out of a whimsical drive for hedonism. Understanding the social and psychological reasons people turn to hard drugs should be a crucial component to tackling the problem of drug addiction. Lock them all up without treatment and you only serve to swell the ranks of the drug using criminal class and exacerbate the problem further.

As for these addicts being the ones driving the global drugs trade – I don’t know where to begin, except to say that the addicts came after the influx of drugs, not before, so it’s logically impossible for them to be responsible. We wouldn’t be in a culture of iPad-obssessed consumers today if Apple never made a product. There wasn’t an opium problem in China before the East India Company flooded the market and created the addicts; there wasn’t a crack epidemic in Los Angeles before the drugs entered the market; nor was there a heroin problem in Britain before the heroin became widely available – these modern markets were created by criminal gangs in the wake of prohibition, and a basic grasp of the dynamics of the global drugs trade (not least the role of the CIA and the international banks in perpetuating the trade) demonstrates clearly that the addicts are not the driving force behind it. Suggesting as much is a very good way of sticking one’s head in the sand and ignoring the wider issues.

As Brand says, you appear incapable of looking at other human beings caught up in drug addiction with a modicum of compassion, which is precisely why your approach will never overcome the problem since it represents nothing but contempt for those who’s lives have been affected by addiction.

To be honest, Peter, I could sit here all week responding to your request; it would be far easier – and much quicker – for me to outline what I agree with you on, and that would be recognising that there is a huge problem that needs to be addressed.

I’ve yet to receive a reply from Mr. Hitchens.


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