Russell Brand: Criminalizing Addicts Like Robin Williams and Philip Seymour Hoffman is ‘Pointless’

By Victoria Kim 01/07/15

British comedian Russell Brand went on Democracy Now! to discuss revolution, inequality, and a subject that’s close to home—drug addiction.

Chris Harvey /

Comedian and activist Russell Brand took the opportunity to bash the drug war on the popular show, Democracy Now!. When host Amy Goodman mentioned the recent high-profile, tragic overdose death of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the shocking suicide of Robin Williams (whose death did not involve drugs, though the actor/comedian was known to have struggled with addiction) Brand had this to say:

“I suppose those high-profile and sad deaths provide an opportunity to highlight how many lives are affected by addiction and the need to address it by different means,” he told Goodman. “I think criminalizing and penalizing people that are ill like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams is sort of pointless. It doesn’t work…I think the only way for drug addiction to be correctly addressed is for it to be regulated properly, not left in the hands of criminals.”

Brand, who is a recovering addict himself, is an outspoken critic of Britain’s drug laws and the larger drug war. “I was part of a social and economic class that is under-served by the current political system, and drug addiction is one of the problems it creates,” he told BBC.

He testified before British Parliament in 2012, calling for a pragmatic, compassionate approach to dealing with drug addiction.

The 39-year-old comedian also actively contributes to compassionate substance abuse treatment. Last year, he launched the Give It Up Fund in the United Kingdom, which established "recovery communities" that help people reenter society after leaving rehab by providing local services such as housing, healthcare, career guidance, and fellowship.

“The reason people are addicted to drugs is because there is sort of a deficit of happiness, a deficit of community, a deficit of connection,” he told Goodman. “I think a lot of us feel a little adrift, like we don’t know how we’re supposed to live, we don’t know what we’re supposed to do. And in the end, some kind of anesthetic becomes attractive. Certainly, that’s my personal experience.”

“I recognize now that the thing that I was chasing after in my years of addiction was probably some sort of sense of communal connection or connection to a higher thing,” he added.

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr