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David & Goliath – Drug Policy and Russell Brand by Andria E-Mordaunt



David & Goliath - Drug Policy and Russell Brand
Years ago, my then-therapist, who knew I’d been deeply involved in drug policy reform, suggested I contact Russell Brand as he was also speaking out against unhelpful drug legislation. I had stopped watching TV, so barely knew who he was.
Fast forward to early 2014, and he is suddenly an acquaintance: fellow ex-drug user and fellow activist in OCCUPY, not to mention Drug Policy Reform.
Generally, I am deeply grateful that OCCUPY has such a high-pro le ally, but I disagreed with his first comments on voting at the recent General Election and methadone, but it is the latter that we at BASELINE need to be concerned about, as it is a well-known, documented fact that methadone (and other opiate substitutes) have reduced HIV among injection drugs users.
As many fellow activists would bang on about his work on social media and other press streams, I felt it was time to research his work. I read both his “bookywooks” rapidly, thoroughly enjoying those hours, as I mostly read academic tomes and it was wonderful to read something that didn’t give me brain-ache!

At that point, I was unsure what was annoying fellow activists so much: suffice it to say that some young, mainly male activists, on the left had pretty-much decided he was a “shill” as he was involved with a woman, closely connected to the Rothschild empire: Jemima Khan. I wasn’t convinced, because what he preached and who his lover was didn’t seem to be contradictory: after all, Jemima Khan is fairly well known for her left-leaningish political commentary.

Then I noted that he had gone to the Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND) – drug policy-making wing of the UN (in Vienna). The CND meets for a few days in March each year to rubber-stamp punitive prohibition. At least it did, till 2009, when Evo Morales, indicating why Coca should not be banned by the UN Drug Conventions, chewed a leaf or three during his speech addressing international dignitaries!

Since, then this “punitive Titanic” has begun to turn away from the Global prohibition that many now know as a war on mainly poor and ethnic-minority communities. At the Commission on Narcotic Drugs in 2014 Russell Brand reiterated his position, against the drug war. All good: fantasticus in fact!
The problem is his comments on methadone are read/heard by millions who know no better: at best he says “too many opiaphiles are “parked on it” – at worst, he basically speaks of its prescribing so judgmentally, one wonders which drug war he is against, as inadvertently he has declared a mini-war on scripted opiaphiles 🙁

As a woman, who had used this synthetic opiate on and off for years, I am well aware of its limitations.
On the plus side, it can stave off withdrawal and give stability back to people’s lives, as buying illegalised heroin and other drugs becomes unnecessary.
On the other hand, it is not what most opiaphiles want, plus doctors often under-prescribe, so at least half of patients in treatment use street drugs on top and/or are not ready to stop using needles.
However, the evidence-base is clear on methadone: its availability and use among injection drug users has signi cantly reduced the spread of HIV (not to mention crime) and therefore plays a critical role in the treatment and care of drug-dependents.

Russell Brand is a great advocate of abstinence- based recovery, fine. IF he would just stop his speechesiels at that point and refrain from condemning Medically Assisted Treatments (MAT) like Methadone, all would be well, but he doesn’t. Thus, he has managed to infuriate many decent hard-working harm reduction workers, who struggle in the trenches day in day out trying to save lives. The Tories must have thought they had found their Golden Child, when he showed up ‘preaching’ abstinence at the Home Affairs Selec Committee, a few years ago. I don’t think it is fair to blame him directly, especially as he advocates non- criminalising drug policy, BUT we can say he has let himself be used: a Perfect Pawn for a government that largely couldn’t give a damn whether drug- dependents live or die…

Most importantly, he has the ear of millions (potentially) so isn’t it his duty to know-well the evidence base before speaking out? I had to read a million words on drug treatment research before having the audacity to write this!

Of course, I speak as an AIDS widow too, who watched her life partner (John Mordaunt) die just because he lived in a Catholic country decades ago, that simply didn’t ‘believe’ in free access to methadone and clean needles: thank God, drug treatment & policy is not about our belief-systems or is it? I have spent decades (both as counsellor and friend) listening to fellow ex/current users as well as fellow drug workers, clinicians in the eld and affected families and over and over again, I nd that where we land is often dictated by our own life observations and/or experiences.

My guess is ‘abstinence-based recovery’ has worked so well for Russell, he understandably promotes
it, but I think there is a profound contradiction in condemning the stigmatisation of criminalised users but then condemning their medication: when it comes to media sound bites, it is virtually impossible to condemn the “parking of drugs users on methadone” and not stigmatise them at the same time. Why do I feel like a David going up against Goliath, challenging this guy? God, this is definitely the hardest BASELINE article I’ve ever written…

It is a relentless pain in the soul, to have disagreements with fellow activists, who are fundamentally saying the same thing. That is that the war on drugs is criminalising struggling communities and MUST STOP! That said, I need to confess…. After my own rst bout of drug treatment, I went on TV a few times and spoke to the importance of drug-free treatment, similarly (but not the same) as the way Russell does now. However back then (early 1980s), I knew little about drug policy and treatment. All I knew was that coming off drugs had made my life a little easier.
During my injecting years, it never occurred to me that I may have been better off taking a legal supply of opiates to stop me becoming completely impoverished, not to mention constantly at risk of imprisonment, or rape as a young sex-worker.

Indeed, I had to go through a very long and painful process of repeated relapses, self-discovery, plus years in academic institutes to get to where I am now, which is essentially more analytical about the whole issue. One thing’s for certain, however much I hated methadone (and really wanted to inject heroin everyday) the fact is, it radically-reduced my need to use needles, and waste ever-dwindling financial resources on street heroin.

That said it is still hard to be completely objective about drug treatment and policy for most of us, let alone two recovering users. Two, who have both used the media to promote their particular positions on this complex social issue, and therein lies the rub. Ultimately, most of us with a bit of know-how, can use different pieces of scientific research to highlight the efficacy of various treatment modalities but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to point out that (in this, and most cases actually) somewhat-contradictory positions are borne out of the suffering of our own personal drug wars. I didn’t like methadone much, but I cannot deny its critical role in keeping me out of jail. Tons more importantly, having cried a zillion tears over John Mordaunt’s death, if I know (which I now do) that hundreds of other young injection drug users will be prevented from having to live with HIV indefinitely, why wouldn’t I defend it, though the odds are so heavily stacked against me with a high-profile man activist/entertainer like Russell condemning it.

In the end, I am just exercising a democratic right & privilege to write here and hoping to God, the message gets through.

Let me keep this simple. Since 1989, when I began advocating for the health and human rights of drug users, many of us have worked bloody hard to unite our affected communities, so that when we are lobbying in the corridors of power, we are all singing off the same song sheet. As Russell Brand is such a great ally to many suffering and disenfranchised fellow human beings, it would be just perfect IF, he could stop negating the use of drugs in drug treatment, and simply accept that just because we have managed drug-free lives, doesn’t mean everyone can.

by Andria Efthimiou Mordaunt

The war on drugs is a war on communities’ – drug reform activist


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