Is substance addiction a fantasy? Is it really just a lack of willpower to stop drinking alcohol or taking drugs? That’s what author and columnist Peter Hitchens asserted Monday on BBC’s Newsnight.
Addressing co-panelist Matthew Perry, an American actor and recovering alcohol and pain-killer addict, Hitchens said: “You have a choice over whether you drink or not. You have a choice over whether you take drugs.”
Hitchens, Perry and Baroness Meacher, of the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drug Policy Reform, were on the show to discuss the creation of special drug courts outside the standard criminal justice system in order to treat, rather than punish, addicts.
Drug courts work, said Perry, best known for portraying Chandler Bing on the US sitcom Friends. “People who go through drug court have a 55 percent less chance of seeing handcuffs ever again.”
Hitchens would have none of that.
He said that drug courts are making the criminal justice system “feeble” and the best way to keep people from becoming addicted is to make the penalties for drug use so prohibitively high that no-one would risk starting.
“The whole point of the criminal justices system, and we forget this all the time, is to deter people from committing crimes,” he said.
And that’s when it got really good. As an incredulous Perry looked on, Hitchens decried the American Medical Association and the “fantasy of addiction”.
“I didn’t come here to listen to ludicrous things like that,” Perry responded.
“The medical evidence shows that addiction is in part a genetic problem and in part an environmental one,” Baroness Meacher said.
“Countries that have addressed this and dealt with it as a health problem are doing a lot better than we are.”
Hitchens, brother of the late author and polemicist Christopher Hitchens, is making quite a habit of confronting celebrity drug users on Newsnight.
In August 2012, he took a turn against comedian Russell Brand, with similar results.
“If you can find in yourself to look at human beings with compassion and love rather than with aggression,” Brand told Hitchens, “you will find there’s more opportunity for progress.”
“I don’t wish to be lectured about aggression by you,” Hitchens replied.
And off they went…
This article first appeared on ‘BBC News’ on 17 December 2013.