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 on Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Panel at the Clinton Foundation Health Matters Initiative Conference

Mental Health & Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Panel

Panel Moderator: Dr. Travis Stork, Emergency Room Physician and Co-Host of The Doctors; Noopur Agarwal, Vice President, Public Affairs, MTV; The Honorable Patrick J. Kennedy, Co-Founder, One Mind for Research, Founder, The Kennedy Forum, Author, MHPAEA; John MacPhee, Executive Director and CEO, The Jed Foundation; David Sheff, Author and New York Times Columnist; Nora D. Volkow, MD, Director, National Institute on Drug Abuse

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David Sheff interviews artist and dissident Ai Weiwei

Ai Wei Wei - David Sheff


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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Presenting Research on Addiction at National Institute on Drug Abuse


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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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The New York Times: “David Sheff is a skilled journalist on an urgent mission.”

This review by Mick Sussman was published in The New York Times.

Sunday Book Review: A Disease, Not a Crime

It must be the purest agony to be the parent of a child succumbing to drug addiction. David Sheff’s previous book was an account of his son Nic’s descent from a thoughtful boy to a sullen pothead to a self-destructive methamphetamine fiend, and of his own tormented and bewildered reaction.

If that book, “Beautiful Boy,” was a cry of despair, “Clean” is intended as an objective, if still impassioned, examination of the research on prevention and treatment — a guide for those affected by addiction but also a manifesto aimed at clinical professionals and policy makers. Sheff’s premise is that “addiction isn’t a criminal problem, but a health problem,” and that the rigor of medicine is the antidote to the irrational responses, familial and social, that addiction tends to set off.

Sheff, a journalist, writes that America’s “stigmatization of drug users” has backfired, hindering progress in curbing addiction. The war on drugs, he says bluntly, “has failed.” After 40 years and an “unconscionable” expense that he estimates at a trillion dollars, there are 20 million addicts in America (including alcoholics), and “more drugs, more kinds of drugs, and more toxic drugs used at younger ages.” Continue Reading →

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New York Times – Science: Clean is a reference work and a manifesto

An excerpt of the review by Abigail ZugerR, M.D.  in The New York Times.

Addict’s Father, Now Advocate

“Beautiful Boy” was a page turner, a dark fable that spoke to worried parents everywhere. “Clean” is a reference work and a manifesto, an annotated map of the same frightening territory where dragons still lurk at the edges.

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

In “Clean,” Mr. Sheff changes perspective, writing as advocate and journalist rather than distraught father. Still, his story line recreates that of “Beautiful Boy,” tracing the trajectory of addiction from cradle to rehab and beyond with the same question in mind: How does a promising cleareyed kid from a good family wind up in an inconceivable sea of trouble?

His answer, bludgeoned home with the repetitive eloquence of the missionary, is entirely straightforward: The child is ill. Addiction must be considered a disease, as devoid of moral overtones as diabetes or coronary artery disease, just as amenable as they are to scientific analysis, and just as treatable with data-supported interventions, not hope, prayer or hocus-pocus. 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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