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NBA star Chris Herren to speak out about addiction at Longmeadow High School

Date: 9/3/2014

LONGMEADOW – Chris Herren was a high school athlete from Fall River who was drafted into the National Basketball Association in 1999. He played with the Denver Nuggets from 1999 to 2000 and with the Boston Celtics from 2000 to 2001 until he lost it all to drug addiction.

Herren will share his story about his personal struggles with addiction and his recovery on Sept. 15 in the Longmeadow High School (LHS) auditorium at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

“I was dead for 30 seconds,” Herren stated in a press release. “That’s what the cop told me. When the EMTs found me, there was a needle in my arm and a packet of heroin in the front seat.”

Herren has been sober since 2008 and in 2009 he launched “Hoop Dreams with Chris Herren Inc.,” which has trained more than 200 basketball players including several top basketball players in New England.

In 2011, he founded the Herren Project, a nonprofit foundation that puts an emphasis on educating at- risk populations on the perils of addiction as well as helping individuals who suffer with an addiction to take their first steps on the road to recovery and a life of sobriety.

Shelly Warren, substance abuse response coordinator for Longmeadow Public Schools, said currently there is an opiate epidemic occurring throughout the Northeast. 

“In short I would say that we aren’t doing any worse than averages for drug use, you know,” she said. “To me that just means that we’re keeping pace with an epidemic.”

In a 2013 student survey, 13 percent of LHS seniors stated they used a prescription medication not prescribed for them in the past, Warren added.

“We are not untouched,” she said. “People refer to Longmeadow kind of tongue and cheek as the bubble, you know, like stuff doesn’t happen here. But that’s not true, stuff just doesn’t get talked about here.”

The leading use of prescription medication in the survey was painkillers, she said. About 50 percent of the 13 percent of students who have used medication not prescribed to them took painkillers.

“Painkillers are basically heroin in pill form and every heroin addict that I’ve worked with has begun their use with prescription pill,” Warren added.

Herren began his addiction with alcohol, then cocaine and oxycontin, and lastly heroin, she said.

“His story is that of a successful student athlete, you know, and a lot of people like to think that this ‘oh this couldn’t happen to me or my kid’ but his story shows it can happen to anyone,” she added.

Warren said her work partly consists of staging targeted interventions for at-risk students, which is either done by referrals from parents, school administration or the students themselves.

“This is a safe and confidential place where they can start talking about what’s going on in their life,” she added.

Students who become addicted to drugs usually do not fit a particular social profile, Warren said. However, she stated that she has seen students develop problems with drugs in the wake of an injury. 

Jim Sullivan, an adapted physical education teacher for grades K-12, said drugs such as heroin sometimes are less expensive than alcohol.

“I think, you know, programs need to come back into the schools and to educate kids and educate parents on the significance of drug addiction,” he said.

Education in the school district includes a health curriculum that educates students on the dangers of drug abuse from grades 6 to 9, Warren said.

“I do think there’s something needed beyond freshman year,” she added. “You know, because kids get more exposure after their freshman year. We see in our statics a big jump from junior to senior year.”

Peer Leadership at LHS is a program for students who want to develop a community where individuals feel safe, valued, and accepted, she said. Juniors and seniors are eligible to become peer leaders with staff recommendation.

The program doesn’t specifically focus on drug abuse but studies have shown that if people have a community with an emphasis on acceptance they will be less likely to abuse drugs or alcohol.