With the United States in the midst of an opioid epidemic, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death among Americans under the age of 50. The importance of education and prevention for the nation’s youth is more important now than ever before. To further this goal, former NBA star Chris Herren brings his message of hope and recovery by speaking to students about his own struggles with alcohol and drug abuse. Herren visited students at Pawling High School in February for an assembly that proved to be both enlightening and powerful.
Chris Herren graduated from Durfee High School in Fall River, MA, where he excelled on the school’s basketball team, holding the individual scoring record that still stands to this day. He received scholarship offers from numerous universities, eventually attending Boston College. While there, multiple drug test failures led to his release from the basketball team, and ultimately his expulsion from the college. Later, he would transfer to Fresno State, but again failed a drug test that hampered his playing time on the basketball court. During his senior year, he entered the NBA draft, being selected in the second round by the Denver Nuggets for the 33rd overall pick. His NBA career would last only two seasons, and he would spend several years playing abroad for teams in China, Germany, Poland, Italy, and Iran.
Herren’s playing career was marred numerous times by his drug and alcohol problems. In addition to the failed drug tests during college, he began abusing OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet during his professional career. Eventually he began the use of heroin and crystal meth, and by 2011 had seven drug-related felonies on his record. During this time, he was also hospitalized four times for drug overdoses. Following a near-fatal accident and an intensive rehabilitation program, Herren finally made the decision to live a sober life, and has been drug- and alcohol-free since August 1, 2008. In addition to his own sobriety, he then made the decision to share his experience with the country’s youth in order to educate them on the dangers of substance abuse.
In 2011, he founded The Herren Project (THP) to increase awareness of the dangers of substance abuse and peer pressure. THP also provides scholarships to individuals dealing with substance abuse, and has since raised more than $333,000. These funds are used to help pay for entry into recovery facilities, recovery coaching, and to offer guidance and support to family members. Additionally, Herren travels the country visiting high schools and colleges, and has over 250 speaking engagements each year. This endeavor ultimately led him to Pawling High School.
At the event for students gathered in the PHS auditorium, Herren was given an introduction by Dutchess County Executive Marcus Molinaro. “I’ve held elected office for twenty five years, and what I worry about now is waking up tomorrow morning and reading the obituary of someone who has died from an overdose,” said Molinaro. “This country is facing an epidemic. Heroin and opioids are taking life after life, and not enough people are willing to talk about it.”
Nearly 200 students from grades 8 – 12 attended the presentation. Herren chose to address the students without the aid of a microphone, instead letting the power of his words radiate through the room. “Over the last seven years,” he said, “I’ve dedicated my life to sharing my story as a public speaker. I’ve spoken to over one million children, and I truly believe that I have made a difference for some of them.” Herren proceeded to tell the story of his descent into addiction, which began at age 14. After eighteen years of alcohol and drug abuse, Herren’s journey became one of sobriety and hope. Herren stressed the importance of abstinence from substance abuse at a young age. He also related several stories from young people he encountered during his numerous speaking engagements. Some were inspiring tales of triumph over addiction, while others were cautionary lessons of individuals who failed to get help before it was too late.
At the conclusion of the afternoon, the students had heard a powerful story of strength and hope. Chris Herren spoke to not only the dangers of substance abuse, but also to the many challenges that adolescents today face. “People think this is just about drugs and alcohol,” he said. “It’s way more than that. It’s about confidence. It’s about self worth and self esteem. It’s about friends.”
For more information on The Herren Project, visit TheHerrenProject.com online.