Pubdate: Fri, 07 Feb 2014
Source: Guardian, The (UK)
Copyright: 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited
Author: Russell Brand
Note: Russell Brand is a comedian and actor


The Great Actor Was an Addict. and Thanks to the Extremely Stupid 
Policy of Prohibition, His Death Was Inevitable

Philip Seymour Hoffman's death was not on the bill. If it'd been the 
sacrifice of Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber, that we are invited to 
anticipate daily, we could delight in the Faustian justice of the 
righteous dispatch of a fast-living, sequin-spattered denizen of 
eMpTyV. We are tacitly instructed to await their demise with 
necrophilic sanctimony. When the end comes, they screech on Fox and 
TMZ, it will be deserved. The Mail provokes indignation, luridly 
baiting us with the sidebar that scrolls from the headline down to hell.

But Philip Seymour Hoffman? A middle-aged man, a credible and 
decorated actor, the industrious and unglamorous artisan of Broadway 
and serious cinema? The disease of addiction recognises none of these 
distinctions. Whilst routinely described as tragic, Hoffman's death 
is insufficiently sad to be left un-supplemented in the mandatory 
posthumous scramble for salacious garnish; we will now be subjected 
to mourn-ography posing as analysis. I can assure you that there is 
no as yet undiscovered riddle in his domestic life or sex life, the 
man was a drug addict and his death inevitable.

A troubling component of this sad loss is the complete absence of 
hedonism. Like a lot of drug addicts, probably most, who "go over", 
Hoffman was alone when he died. This is an inescapably bleak 
circumstance. When we reflect on Bieber's Louis Vuitton embossed, 
Lamborghini cortege it is easy to equate addiction with indulgence 
and immorality. The great actor dying alone denies us this required 
narrative prang.

The reason I am so non-judgmental of Hoffman or Bieber and so 
condemnatory of the pop cultural tinsel that adorns the reporting 
around them is that I am a drug addict in recovery, so like any drug 
addict I know exactly how Hoffman felt when he "went back out". In 
spite of his life seeming superficially great, in spite of all the 
praise and accolades, in spite of all the loving friends and family, 
there is a predominant voice in the mind of an addict that supersedes 
all reason and that voice wants you dead. This voice is the 
unrelenting echo of an unfulfillable void.

Addiction is a mental illness around which there is a great deal of 
confusion, which is hugely exacerbated by the laws that criminalise 
drug addicts.

If drugs are illegal people who use drugs are criminals. We have set 
our moral compass on this erroneous premise, and we have strayed so 
far off course that the landscape we now inhabit provides us with no 
solutions and greatly increases the problem.

This is an important moment in history; we know that prohibition does 
not work. We know that the people who devise drug laws are out of 
touch and have no idea how to reach a solution. Do they even have the 
inclination? The fact is their methods are so gallingly ineffective 
that it is difficult not to deduce that they are deliberately 
creating the worst imaginable circumstances to maximise the harm 
caused by substance misuse.

People are going to use drugs; no self-respecting drug addict is even 
remotely deterred by prohibition. What prohibition achieves is an 
unregulated, criminal-controlled, sprawling, global mob-economy, 
where drug users, their families and society are all exposed to the 
worst conceivable version of this regrettably unavoidable problem.

Countries like Portugal and Switzerland that have introduced 
progressive and tolerant drug laws have seen crime plummet and 
drugrelated deaths significantly reduced. We know this. We know this 
system doesn't work  and yet we prop it up with ignorance and 
indifference. Why? Wisdom is acting on knowledge. Now we are aware 
that our drug laws aren't working and that alternatives are yielding 
positive results, why are we not acting? Tradition? Prejudice? 
Extreme stupidity? The answer is all three. Change is hard, apathy is 
easy, tradition is the narcotic of our rulers. The people who are 
most severely affected by drug prohibition are dispensable, 
politically irrelevant people. Poor people. Addiction affects all of 
us but the poorest pay the biggest price.

Philip Seymour Hoffman's death is a reminder, though, that addiction 
is indiscriminate. That it is sad, irrational and hard to understand. 
What it also clearly demonstrates is that we are a culture that does 
not know how to treat its addicts. Would Hoffman have died if this 
disease were not so enmeshed in stigma? If we weren't invited to 
believe that people who suffer from addiction deserve to suffer? 
Would he have OD'd if drugs were regulated, controlled and 
professionally administered? Most importantly, if we insisted as a 
society that what is required for people who suffer from this 
condition is an environment of support, tolerance and understanding?

The troubling message behind Philip Seymour Hoffman's death, which we 
all feel without articulating, is that it was unnecessary and we know 
that something could be done. We also know what that something is and 
yet, for some traditional, prejudicial, stupid reason we don't do it.

Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton, is petitioning for an 
inquiry into UK drug laws (at sign it .
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom