By Li-mei Hoang
LONDON (Reuters) - Comedian and actor Russell Brand told the British government on Tuesday that it needs to adopt a pragmatic approach to address the social issues that lead young people to take drugs.
Dressed in a flamboyant ensemble of black, Brand struck a contrast against the formally attired politicians with his long coat, vest, hat and leather wristbands.
Brand, a former heroin addict who has been arrested 12 times, appeared before politicians to give his views on the government's drug policies and his battle with drug addiction.
The comedian answered questions from the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee on his experiences and stressed the importance addressing addiction as an illness rather than a criminal or judicial matter.
"It's more important that we regard people's suffering from addiction with compassion, and that there is a pragmatic rather than symbolic approach to treating it," he said.
The committee is looking at the government's drug policy, existing sanctions and the case for decriminalizing some substances.
"The status of a drug is irrelevant to a drug addict. If you're a drug addict, you're getting drugs. That's it. So in way, it's probably best to make it simple," he said.
Brand told the committee he became addicted to drugs because of emotional and psychological difficulties as well as spiritual malady.
"I was sad, lonely, unhappy, detached and drugs and alcohol for me seemed like a solution to that problem," he said.
Brand called for more awareness and research into abstinence-based recovery, which he underwent to treat his addiction at rehabilitation charity Focus12, of which he is a patron.
"If you have the illness or disease of addiction or alcoholism, the best way to tackle it is not use drugs in any form whether it's state-sponsored opus like methadone or illegal street drugs," Brand said.
"There is some confusion and ignorance around addiction and it's quite understandable because a lot of drug addicts...are a strain on society, they necessarily engage in criminal activity, they're a public nuisance in many ways.
"It wasn't until I had access to abstinence-based recovery that I was able to change my behavior and significantly reduce, all but obliterate my criminal activity, apart from the occasional skirmish," he joked lightly.
The comedian has written about his struggle with drug addiction in his autobiography "My Booky Wook" in 2007 and wrote a touching obituary about singer Amy Winehouse when she died last year after battling alcohol and drug abuse for years.
"We need to review the way society treats addicts, not as criminals but as sick people in need of care," Brand wrote on his website.
"We need to look at the way our government funds rehabilitation. It is cheaper to rehabilitate an addict than to send them to prison, so criminalization doesn't even make economic sense."
(Reporting by Li-mei Hoang, editing by Paul Casciato)