March 19, 2014LITTLETON— Chris Herren lost nearly all he had, including his family and life, during a 14-year battle with substance abuse. The former Boston Celtic spoke about the dangers of drugs at a LHS assembly on Friday afternoon.
Now clean for nearly six years, Herren addresses students across the country. Since embarking on speaking tours, 500,000 students have heard Herren's message.
Even with great potential to be a basketball star, Herren's problems with substance abuse began in high school, then lasted throughout college and pro basketball careers. After nearly dying from an overdose in 2008, Herren found success after several rehabilitation attempts.
"I remember what it was like walking in to this assembly," Herren said at the start of his speech. "I'll never be that guy," he thought as a teen. There was no way, the young Herren mistakenly believed, that an alcohol problem could turn into heroin and pain killer addiction.
With so much pressure on students to do drugs, Herren believes change needs to occur in how the country tackles the problem. "There is a real need for a sober culture in our high schools and middle schools," he said.
Additionally, Herren said more focus is needed to show how the first days of addiction can have years of consequences. "I think we teach too much about the last day of addiction," he said, when students see pictures of wreaked cars and the aftermath of drug abuse.
A shift in culture is also needed, Herren said, because many students who have friends with drug problems are often afraid to let authorities know. "I wish I told on my friends," Herren said, "and I wish my friends told on me."
As he continued, Herren said, "There's kids in here who won't tell on their friends. And in three or four years, you'll wish you did."
Those who struggle need the support of their peers, Herren added. "Be respectful for the kid who is hurting here," he said.
The staggering danger requires the change in mindset, Herren suggested. He said 30 million Americans have some kind of substance abuse problem. About 90 percent of those people develop their addiction during the teen years, he said.
For those who resist the temptations that can create a drug problem, Herren had some advice. "Be proud that you believe in yourself," he said. "The kids who can do that today are my heroes."
A car crash in June 2008 was the ultimate wake up call for Herren. A heroin overdose behind the wheel was the reason for the accident, which occurred in his hometown of Fall River, Mass. At the scene, a police officer gave Herren a very stark comment. "Homeboy, you've been dead for 30 seconds," the officer said.
Herren has found that many children want to share their stories. Emails he receives after his speeches give great meaning to Herren's life, he said. Getting that kind of feedback helps Herren "put a silver lining in everything I lost," he said.
"I hang out with sober people now," Herren said. "I don't put what I have at risk any more." He intends to stay clean for the benefit of his wife and three kids.
The message Herren delivered had a clear impact. Some students wept in the aftermath of what they heard.
Dozens of students gave Chris high fives or handshakes after the assembly. He also had one-on-one time with some students.
Herren has a busy travel schedule. The LHS appearance was his tenth speech of the week. He is also training to run in next month's Boston Marathon. Herren operates a basketball training program, based in Portsmouth, R.I. For additional information about his endeavors, go to: http://www.ahoopdream.com.