Thursday, June 13, 2013

An interview with 2013 CPDD/NIDA Media Award Winner Mr. David Sheff

Mr. David Sheff is a best-selling author and winner of the 2013 CPDD/NIDA Media Award. He is receiving this award for his contributions that enhance the public understanding of scientific issues concerning drug use disorders, including his books entitled "Beautiful Boy" and "Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America's Greatest Tragedy".

CPDDBLOG interviewed Mr. Sheff to find out more about his background and his work.

CPDDBLOG:  Tell us a little about your background before you wrote your first book on addictions, the bestseller "Beautiful Boy".

David Sheff:  After college I became a journalist, first as editor of magazines (New West, California, Men's Life, Yahoo), and then as freelance writer. I wrote for the Times, Wired, Playboy, Rolling Stone, and many other magazines and newspapers. My articles were about politics, art, movies, the environment, architects, and business. I interviewed a long list of people that included John Lennon -- it was the last major interview before he was murdered, Steve Jobs, Frank Zappa, Congressman Barney Frank, Jeff Bezos, Jack Nicholson, David Hockney, Frank Gehry, Scott Peck, Snoop Dogg, Keith Haring, and many others. I wrote a few books-- Game Over, about Nintendo and the video-game revolution; China Dawn, about the building and impact of the Internet in China, and All We Are Saying, the full text of my interview with John and Yoko.

My first child was born in 1982, my beautiful boy Nic. When he was 12, he tried drugs for the first time. We were reassured-- "kids experiment," "it's a rite of passage," "everyone is doing it-- don't worry, Nic's a great kid and he'll be fine." But he wasn't. He became addicted to meth, heroin, and other drugs. My life changed: I became consumed with trying to save his life.

CPDDBLOG:  What compelled you to write your new book, "Clean"?

David Sheff:  When Beautiful Boy came out, a door opened to the suffering caused by addiction. From our family's experience, I knew how traumatic it is to have a loved one suffering the disease. But I didn't know how pervasive and destructive -- to individuals, families, and society -- until after the book came out. I received hundreds of letters and thousands of emails and comments on message boards. I met countless people as I traveled around the country. The message was the same: Your family's story is our story. The suffering was immeasurable. And too often the stories had different endings: "My beautiful boy died." "My lovely daughter didn't make it."

These families had done what they could to save their children. In most cases, they did much of what I did, try rehabs, residential and outpatient programs, sober living houses, and therapists of every stripe. Nothing worked. I wanted to know why. Why are we so inept when it comes from preventing addiction and, when it hits, treating it. Moreover, I wanted to learn what we could do better.

CPDDBLOG:  What role do you see researchers playing in improving how our society deals with addiction disorders?

David Sheff:   Frankly I see researchers are our hope. I spend a good portion of Clean proving that addiction is a disease. Given that it's an illness-- a serious, progressive, probably chronic, and possibly fatal illness -- it needs to be treated by science-based approaches, just as we treat other diseases. Unfortunately, our treatment system is based on pseudoscience, best guesses, wishful thinking, blame and castigation, and in some cases what borders on voodoo. Researchers have made breakthroughs in treatment. Our current goal is to get those treatments to those people who need them. But we need new and better treatments. These will come from researchers devoted to ending this disease.

CPDDBLOG:  What are your future plans for writing, and do they include additional works on the topic of addictions?

David Sheff:   I plan to continue writing about addiction and related mental illnesses. This is a subject that's not only endlessly fascinating, but of paramount importance. I have a list of articles in mind -- about Narcan; the international drug problem and treatment paradigms throughout the world; the potential of corporations to effect their bottom lines by offering assessment, screening, and treatment for employees who need it; new treatments (vaccines and experimental treatments, for example), and other articles about drug use, addiction, prevention, and treatment in America and beyond.

CPDDBLOG:  What does winning the CPDD/NIDA Media Award mean to you?

David Sheff:  It's fraught whenever a journalist, at least one who isn't a scientist or doctor, ventures into the realm of science and medicine. I'm a layman--a father who had no intention of learning about addiction until I had no choice. As a father and journalist, I sought to understand as much as I could about this disease-- what it is, how it manifests, how it can be treated, and how it can be prevented. As I went forward, I relied on the expertise of many of the nation's preeminent addiction researchers and clinicians. They were patient with me as they explained the complex field of addiction medicine. From the outset I've been aware that my knowledge about this disease pales compared to those who have devoted their lives to understanding and conquering it. For those reasons, an award from CPDD/NIDA -- that is, from the very people on the front lines of addiction research and treatment -- means more than I can say, because they're my heroes. It's not a word I use lightly. Not only did they instruct me, and not only are they treating addicts and improving our ability to prevent and treat addiction, but they saved my son's life.

CPDDBLOG:  Many thanks for taking the time to answer these questions, and congratulations on winning our Award.

David Sheff:   Thanks so much for asking. Its a great honor to receive this award.

CPDDBLOG welcomes CPDD member’s thoughts on this issue.

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