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 →

Posted in Articles

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.

Continue Reading →

Posted in Articles

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 →
Posted in Articles

PBS Newshour: David Sheff’s Top 8 Myths about Addiction

Interview with Judy Woodruff – PBS Newshour.

Why We Should Treat, Not Blame Addicts Struggling to Get ‘Clean’

It has been more than 40 years since Richard Nixon called for a “war on drugs,” and yet our prevention and treatment efforts have largely failed to address the chronic illness of substance addiction that afflicts one in 12 Americans and affects millions more friends and family members.

Continue Reading →

Posted in Recent Press

MSNBC’s The Cycle: Challenging everything about addiction

Interview with MSNBC’s The Cycle 

While helping his son battle addiction, David Sheff explains to The Cycle hosts that when it comes to how we view and treat drug addiction, we’re stuck in the past.

Posted in Recent Press

USA Today: Making a ‘Clean’ sweep of addiction in USA

Interview by Craig Wilson – USA Today

David Sheff makes a ‘Clean’ sweep of addiction

The author, who wrote a memoir about his son’s drug problem, is back to argue that substance abuse is an illness.

Q: First off, how’s Nic (now 30) doing these days?

A: Miraculously, he’s doing just great. He’s sober now for about five years, which is the most important thing after his struggles of a decade. He’s in L.A., doing lots of fun stuff.

Q: You look back now and wonder what you’d do differently with Nic, asking yourself, “How could I have…” over and over. What’s the answer to that question? Was there a co-dependence?

A: Yes, in a word. I think I definitely was in denial for a long, long time. Parents like me are wired for denial because it’s just too scary to acknowledge our kids are on the descent. Continue Reading →

Posted in Recent Press

NPR’s Fresh Air: Telling Story of Son’s Struggle to Stay ‘Clean’

Interview by Terry Gross – NPR’s Fresh Air.

A Father Tells The Story Of His Son’s Struggle To Stay ‘Clean’

Why do we imprison people who are addicted to illegal drugs instead of treating them for their addiction? That question is at the heart of David Sheff’s new book Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy. It reports the latest medical and scientific research about addiction and recovery, which, Sheff says, shows that drug addicts are gravely ill, afflicted with a chronic, progressive and often terminal disease.

Sheff’s research is motivated by having watched his son Nic’s addiction nearly destroy him and the family. Nic started smoking marijuana when he was 12 and eventually moved on to shooting heroin and crystal meth. He became homeless, living on the streets, in cars, in parks, and when he did come home, he stole from and lied to the family. Sheff wrote about how the family lived through his son’s addiction in the best-selling memoir Beautiful Boy. Nic wrote about his addiction in two memoirs and has been clean for five years.

David Sheff joins Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross to talk about his family’s experience and why he feels the nation’s approach to drug treatment failed his son. Continue Reading →

Posted in Recent Press

David Sheff On Addiction: Prevention, Treatment And Staying ‘Clean’

Interview by Scott Simon – NPR’s Weekend Edition.

David Sheff wrote a book in 2008 that became a kind of landmark. Beautiful Boy was a painful, personal story of the battle he tried to fight with and alongside his son, Nic, who was addicted to methamphetamines. The book became an international best-seller and made David Sheff one of the country’s most prominent voices on addiction — not as a doctor, an addict or an academic expert, but as a father.

Sheff has continued to try to figure out a road that can lead out of addiction, and he presents that route in his new book, Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy. He joined NPR’s Scott Simon to talk about prevention, treatment programs and the legalization of marijuana. Continue Reading →

Posted in Recent Press

MSNBC’s The Last Word: Why America’s Losing the War on Drugs

Interview by Lawrence O’Donnell – MSNBC’s The Last Word

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Posted in Recent Press

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 →

Posted in Articles