Last night I watched Russell Brand in a BBC documentary, From Addiction to Recovery, argue, among other things, that drug addiction is a disease and as such should be treated as a health issue rather than a criminal one. He also engaged in some lively debate with a health specialists about the use of abstention as apposed to methadone as a rehabilitation tactic.
We have never been short on narratives relating to drug addiction and drug dealing from the offenders' perspective but very few stories are told from the point of view of the wider community which is a gap I hoped to fill with my book, Block. At first I wasn't going to watch the programme, reluctant to revisit old visions, still, I found myself drawn in as Russell spoke to addicts, ex-dealers, health experts and charities, taking his views as far as the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee and contributing to the Drugs Policy Inquiry.
I don't doubt that evidence shows a predisposition to addiction in some people and that it should indeed be treated as a health issue but it has to be accepted that criminal behaviour should carry with it criminal consequences because what about the victims of the crimes? So by all means rehabilitate but in considering yet another account from addicts' perspective don't forget about the ruined communities in between. One police officer said that it was his belief that dealers should be incarcerated but that addicts should be treated/rehabilitated. The reality is that addicts are also often dealers so where do you draw the line?
It's clear that whatever the 'system' is at the moment it's not working otherwise those of us within poorer communities would not be witnessing the sad scenes we see every day and the point is why should we have to? Because the law sees fit to give chance after chance to dealers and addicts? What about our second chances? Why should we have to live in fear, anxiety and always with the threat of violence and crime?
Watching the programme I did feel an enormous amount of sadness. It was hard to watch; Pictures of junkies who had used for so many years that their veins and bodies were (for want of a better word) fucked, first hand accounts from people who obviously wanted to make a change. I've always maintained that none of us are immune. All of us are only one bad decision or one bad experience away from that slide towards addiction/social isolation/homelessness etc. Are they often victims of abuse or circumstance? Yes, but so are many of us and you can't remove the element of personal responsibility. We are all victims of poor policies poorly executed within a piss poor system but there are different levels of victimhood. If we as a community find ourselves victim to violence, robbery, fear can we accept personal responsibility for that? No, but surely the dealer/addict must accept some responsibilty for sticking a needle in his/her vein and then going out and commiting a crime. Otherwise you throw them back into society without rehab, without jail time, without support, and what does it create? Yet more victims. Too often rehab seems to consist of putting addicts and dealers back into the very same communities they have damaged. How does that help them or their victims?
Another argument posed was that they are part of society and should be treated as such. Well of course, but let the addict accept their part in that too. It is only once they accept that they have both a personal and social responsibility that they can be helped and welcomed back into society. So by all means treat it as a health issue but look at it from all sides because those of us who live within those damaged communities often find ourselves suspending sympathy/empathy because for us it's a matter of day to day survival.