Last Updated: Wed Jul 20, 2011 01:15 am (KSA) 22:15 pm (GMT)

Angela Simaan: Mr. Sheen comes to Washington

Big-name actors Martin Sheen and Matthew Perry brought Tinsel Town glamour to Capitol Hill on Tuesday, rallying with hundreds of others who want Congress to increase funding for the US drug court system.

After the rally, Mr. Sheen, a longtime advocate for drug courts, testified before the Senate about successes he’s seen in addiction treatment centers he helped establish in California starting in 1986. Mr. Perry sat behind him during the hearing, accompanied by fellow actor Harry Lennix and Phish frontman Trey Anastasio.

“I’ve seen individuals mired in the depths of addiction transformed by drug courts,” said Mr. Sheen to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “These miracles happen every day in drug court. I believe our country’s greatest untapped resource is its addicted population.”

Drug courts only handle cases of nonviolent substance abuse offenders, offering them addiction treatment and rehabilitation programs instead of more traditional punitive measures like jail time. Prisons in the US are chronically and appalling overcrowded – so much so that the Supreme Court ruled in May that California had to release thousands of inmates held in inhumane conditions – and many of the repeat offenders are caught in the cycle of drug abuse and the crimes that go along with it. Drug courts aim to cut down on recidivism by actually treating addicts so they’re eventually able to re-enter society.

Lots of celebrities apply their fame to worthy causes– “celebvocates” like Bono and Angelina Jolie practically make a career of it – but it was refreshing to see stars like Mr. Sheen and Matthew Perry step up to the plate on an issue that’s less popular and intensely personal. Matthew Perry publicly struggled for years with painkiller addiction while filming the show Friends; and Martin Sheen’s talked openly about his addictions in the 1970s and his equally famous son Charlie’s recent manic episodes, fueled by drugs and alcohol and catalogued by Twitter and the press.

Part of the $88.7 million in requested funding will go to boosting veteran courts, similar programs for veterans who return from war with substance abuse or mental health problems.

Mr. Sheen, sounding almost as presidential as he did during years of playing the President on the popular political drama West Wing, stumped for vets too.

“We ask so much of our men and women in uniform, and they ask so little in return. In fact, they are often the last to ask for counseling or treatment,” he said. “It is our duty to care for our veterans when they suffer as a direct result of their service to our country.”

(Angela Simaan is a producer in Al Arabiya’s Washington, DC bureau and can be reached at

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