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If You Want to See Inequality in the U.S. at Its Worst, Visit an Impound Lot

This article was written by David Sheff for Time.

For millions of Americans a towed car can lead to a crippling spiral of stress, debt, joblessness, illness and, in many cases, incarceration

Stockley Tow 3On a recent San Francisco afternoon, I returned to where I’d parked my car, but it was gone. A “No Parking” sign indicated that parking was prohibited after 3:00 PM on weekends. It was 3:15. I called the telephone number on the sign and a clerk affirmed that my car had been towed to an impound lot.

I took a cab and entered a single-story brick building where a few dozen people were crowded together in a scene that evoked Kafka; weariness, frustration and anger were palpable. Some stood in line, some paced and some sat hunched on the floor. A family huddled in a corner, an infant asleep on the father’s shoulder. A woman on a pay phone wept as she begged whomever was on the line to find money so she could get her car back–she said she needed $875. “I’m gonna lose my job if I’m not there at 5.”

Clerks sat on stools behind Plexiglas. At a window, a man pleaded with an agent, “I have to pick up my kids in less than an hour. What am I supposed to do?” At the next window, another man railed loudly and furiously, yelling, “How the hell am I supposed to get my goddam money if I can’t get to goddam work?” The clerk said, “If you can’t get cash, you can pay by credit card or cashier’s check.” The man shouted, “And if I had a goddam limousine, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

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David Sheff interviews artist and dissident Ai Weiwei

Ai Wei Wei - David Sheff

PHOTO BY AI WEIWEI - INSTAGRAM
PHOTO BY AI WEIWEI – INSTAGRA

Interview with Ai Weiwei

by David Sheff

The artist Ai Weiwei is the Chinese government’s worst nightmare: an internationally revered art star who uses his work and celebrity to advocate for democracy and free speech in a nation with neither. The government has employed a draconian campaign to silence him. Ai is under constant surveillance. He has been threatened, placed under house arrest and physically attacked by a police officer. Ai’s incendiary blog, read by thousands of Chinese citizens, disappeared one day. And so did he: In 2011, state police grabbed him at the airport, threw a black bag over his head and drove him to an undisclosed location, where he languished for 81 days in a tiny prison cell. Despite these attacks, Ai has continued his virulent criticism of the Chinese Communist leadership, which he deems repressive, immoral and illegitimate. 

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At the Yale Department of Psychiatry Grand Rounds Lecture: David Sheff talks about Addiction, America’s Greatest Tragedy

Article by Susan Gonzalez was published in the Yale News

Journalist shares his anguished journey through son’s addiction — and what he’s learned from it

There was a time early in his son’s addiction to methamphetamines and heroin that David Sheff reacted with disbelief when told that addiction is a disease.

“My son isn’t ill,” the freelance journalist and author recalled thinking. “He’s a selfish, reckless, remorseless, narcissistic teenager obsessed with being high.”

The first time he forced Nic into treatment, said Sheff, the youngster tried to kick out the car window in an effort to escape.

Sheff — author of the bestselling “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction” and the subsequent (and also bestselling) “Clean: Addressing Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy” — recounted some of his journey before a packed audience during a psychiatry grand rounds lecture in the auditorium of 55 Park St. His talk, co-sponsored by the Poynter Fellowship, was also the Department of Psychiatry’s annual Ribicoff Lecture.

Today, following a decade of personal experience and years of journalistic research, Sheff is convinced that addiction is, in fact, an illness, and believes that it cannot be prevented and successfully treated until that fact is commonly accepted and understood. He said the addict should be treated with as much compassion as someone with cancer or any other disease.

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Nic and David Sheff Speak at the Family Action Network

With Nic Photo by Eric Dynowski

Nic and David Sheff
Photo by Eric Dynowski

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The Hidden Ten Percent

This article by David Sheff was originally published on Medium.

Our Children’s Drug Problem and What Parents Can Do To Solve It

A mother writes:

My son ______ was addicted to prescription drugs. At twenty one he was introduced to heroin. Two years later heroin took his life…. I found him in the bathroom in respiratory arrest. I started CPR until the paramedics arrived and transported him to the hospital. He was on life support for five weeks. He passed away on 12/11/2010. Some days the pain is so unbearable that I don’t think I’ll make it.

A father told me about his daughter, “so smart and kind and loving.”

She was 20. For the last 4 years, she was using marijuana and drinking. Then she tried meth, and that’s when I lost her. She had begun college — an ivy league school. She had good friends who loved her. After her third rehab, she was clean for six months, but then she relapsed. This time someone gave her pills. She was at a park when they found her. I can hardly write these words. We lost our beautiful girl.

More letters arrive. And more. Attached to many e-mails are pictures. Or when I open envelopes that come in the mail, photographs fall out like petals falling off a flower that has died. Parents sending pictures of their children. Their beautiful boys and beautiful girls. And they are beautiful. Every one. Continue Reading →

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Calling 911 Shouldn’t Lead to Jail

This article by David Sheff was originally published at The New York Times.

PARENTS of drug-addicted kids learn the hard way that when we think things can’t get worse, they do. As a teenager, my son, Nic, was addicted to methamphetamine, heroin and other drugs. At 20, he had used most of the illicit drugs known to man. But one night, partying with a couple of friends in his basement apartment in Brooklyn, the combination and volume caused him to overdose. One of his friends called 911.

Nic was rushed to the emergency room, where he was resuscitated. When I spoke to a doctor there, I was told that if another 15 minutes had passed before Nic got to the E.R., he wouldn’t have survived. My son has now been sober for five years. I don’t know who called the paramedics, but not a day goes by when I don’t thank him.

Other parents haven’t been so lucky. Continue Reading →

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Time.com Viewpoint: We Need to Rethink Rehab

This article by David Sheff was originally published at Time.com.

When my son Nic became addicted to methamphetamine and other drugs, I was panicked, overwhelmed and desperate to save his life but had no idea what to do. I’d heard about rehab, where you send people with drug problems, but I soon learned that there’s no standard definition of it; instead it’s a generic word for a wide variety of treatments, including some that are outrageous. Past-life therapy? Exorcism? Tough-love programs in which patients are made to scrub bathroom tiles with a toothbrush or cut grass with scissors? Even in more-typical rehabilitation programs, patients are not seen by licensed practitioners — no doctors or psychologists — only self-anointed “experts” with no training or credentials, unless you count their own recoveries from addiction to heroin, alcohol or other drugs.

I chose a rehab center for Nic that was recommended by a friend who had sent her son there. The program lasted 28 days, after which he relapsed. Over the next six years, he was admitted to six residential treatment programs and four outpatient programs. He would do better for a while, but then relapse. Each relapse was crushing. I thought he might die.

Every year in the U.S., 120,000 people die of addiction. That’s 350 a day. Continue Reading →

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Fashionably Stoned

This article by David Sheff was originally published at Medium

A “Celebrity Boutique” Celebrates Drug Use at Children’s Expense

The banner on the website of Kitson, the self-described celebrity boutique whose customers include Taylor Swift, Reese Witherspoon, and Paris Hilton, reads, “Pop one on and you’ll feel better. Just what the doctor ordered.” The prescription is for customers to check out the company’s line of jerseys and sweatshirts emblazoned with the words VICODIN, XANAX, and ADDERALL, three of the most misused prescription medications, the class of drugs now killing more people than any other nonnatural cause, even traffic accidents.

Pop references to drugs are nothing new. Miley Cyrus’s twerking at MTV’s Video Music Awards was talked about more than Syria, but not much was said about the song she sang that made “dancing with Molly” sound pretty great. Molly is MDMA—Ecstasy, the drug that killed two kids and left others in critical condition at the Electronic Zoo music festival in New York City on August 31. (The New York Times has reported more deaths since then.) Nicki Minaj, Madonna, Kanye West, Rihanna, and Rick Ross also sing the praises of Molly, but those endorsements are simply the latest in the tradition of countless songs, movies, TV shows, and products that make drugs seem awesome.

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Immorality or Illness?

Article by David Sheff originally appeared on Medium

When my teenage son was raging out of control on drugs — wasted on crystal meth and heroin, careening toward death — I finally got him into treatment, the first of a dozen rehab programs he would go to. This program included lectures for family members, like one titled “The Disease of Addiction.” By then Nic had lied to me, broken into our home, and stolen from me — and even from his little brother, too. I thought I’d raised a kind, moral, and loving child, but something had gone horribly wrong. As I listened to the speaker talk about addiction as a disease, Nic was in a lockdown ward in a wing of the hospital. Getting him there had been hell — he almost leaped out of our moving car and had tried to kick out the window. My son wasn’t ill. He was selfish, reckless, and remorseless, a narcissistic teenager obsessed with being high, with no concern for his family.That was the first time I heard what is sometimes termed “the disease theory” of addiction, but it wasn’t the last. I tell about my struggle to understand that addiction is a disease in my book Beautiful Boy, about about my family’s struggle when Nic became addicted. The disease theory was repeated in more lectures at more rehabs, in countless therapists’ offices, and in many Twelve Step meetings I attended. I’d become enraged by it. People with leukemia have a disease. Those with Alzheimer’s or lymphoma have a disease. Nic was choosing to use and could stop if he wanted to. There was no such option for cancer patients. Continue Reading →
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The Lost War

This article by David Sheff was published at Medium

The war on drugs was lost because the war on addiction was never begun

The death last month of the Glee star Cory Monteith was tragic. All deaths are. But it is even more tragic when it could have been prevented — like Monteith’s.

Because of Monteith’s death from an overdose of heroin and alcohol, addiction is having its latest fifteen minutes of fame. Fifteen minutes, however, are better than none to serve as a reminder of the prevalence and perniciousness of this disease. It’s unfortunate that it takes the death of a TV star—a Canadian in this case, but beloved in America and thought of as one of our own—to talk about a disease that kills three hundred and fifty people every day.

In the ubiquitous coverage of Monteith’s overdose, I haven’t heard any commentator express the fact that this death isn’t merely sad. It is appalling­—because it might have been prevented if it weren’t for failed drug policies. Continue Reading →

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