BROADALBIN – There was a hush in the auditorium as former NBA player Chris Herren talked about drug and alcohol abuse, and when it was over the student assembly rose on their feet with some weeping.
Broadalbin-Perth High School played host to an anti-substance abuse presentation given by Herren on Thurs. Jan. 14 that included a 25-minute documentary and a question and answer session.
Herren’s public sports life started as a basketball star, being drafted by the Denver Nuggets then traded to the Boston Celtics, while abusing alcohol, pain killers, and drugs. It ended in a rehab center and a lost professional basketball career.
“Over the last five years, I have dedicated my life to speaking against drugs and alcohol. I have the responsibility to present to a million kids, and I tell you, this makes a difference,” Herren said.
Herren said it wasn’t easy to speak about his anti-substance abuse message to groups and student assemblies.
What got him through was his desire to help students turn their lives around.
“Let me help just one kid,” he said.
Herren spoke about his first presentation to students when a girl raised her hand up to ask a question only to be heckled by her classmates. She was not a popular student, Herren explained.
Six months after his first presentation, the girl contacted him. She explained she felt confident enough to share her pain of having an alcoholic father.
“She said, ‘I’m far from a pretty girl. People laugh. I have no friends’,” Herren said.
“The student turned out to be a cutter, and would roll up her sleeves to cut her arms.”
She sat at a table with the ‘cool’ students and showed them her scars and said to them, see what you did to me? After that, the joking stopped.
“She is one of the reasons I do this,” Herren said. “I want to attempt to change our culture in the high schools.”
“Sometimes our friends laugh at us. I look at kids laughing and I say ‘what’s so funny about not doing drugs?’” Herren said.
Herren said he wishes he had never had to change himself, hiding out in the local woods in his hometown of Fall River, Mass. covering up his drug addiction by spraying visine in his eyes so his mother wouldn’t find out.
“At night, I see my friends that never drank or smoked. I see those same friends now and they have something we’re missing,” Herren said. “They had fun, we don’t. They don’t run and hide, we do.”
He said out of 15 students on his high school basketball team, seven became heroin addicts.
“I never heard one friend say, ‘I can’t wait to stick a needle in my veins’,” he said. “To cause the breakup of my family or to lose scholarships. Those conversations don’t happen.”
Herren suggested students pull aside their struggling friends and support them to get off drugs and alcohol.
“In six years, you’ll bump into your former friend’s mom and she’ll get emotional because you remind her of what her son or daughter used to be. You’ll regret the type of friend you were – if you ignore the problem,” he said.
Herren said he heard many stories of students overdosing and killing themselves in the process of getting ‘high’.
“If you have a friend, help. Don’t ignore it,” he said.
He explained alcohol was what dragged his family to divorce, saying his father was an alcoholic.
“My father liked drinking Miller Lite on more nights than he liked his whole family,” he said. “I made a promise I would never be like my father, but at the age of 14, I broke that promise.”
Herren said he grabbed his father’s beer and drank it.
“My mom had a big smile on her face and asked me what I was doing. I lied at 14 years old,” he said. “When your own mom and dad don’t know you…that’s sad.”
“I think it’s important for kids to understand it’s not about drugs and alcohol, it’s about self-esteem. If I could change things over, I would take my kids, my family, out of it. Today, for seven and a half years, I finally became the dad I had to be for my kids.”
High School Art and STEM teacher Crisan Anadio said having Herren speak was important especially for students struggling with substance abuse.
“I hope the students who weren’t here today can hear his message and reach out to Chris for help. Our school really helps our kids and it really makes a difference,” Anadio said.
“In sixth grade, I lost an aunt who died from heroin,” Eleventh Grade Student Rio Blundell said. “I also have had friends who tried cocaine. I don’t want to go down that same path.”
The focus should be on the first day of addiction not the last days, Herren said.
“Prevention is the key to this epidemic,” he said. “We push our kids academically and socially. I think we go the wrong way that way. It would be great to have more treatment centers, but more importantly we should teach wellness as a core class in the high schools. There’s so much pressure on kids already.”
Herren founded The Herren Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing treatment navigation, educational and mentoring programs to those affected by addiction and to educate people of all ages on the dangers of substance abuse. For more information about The Herren Project, go to www.theherrenproject.org.
This is a reprint of an article written by Greg Hitchcock originally published in the Gloversville Leader Herald in January 2016.