Former NBA star talks opioid use, fall from grace to captive THS audience
Former NBA star Chris Herren spoke from his heart Monday at Tigard High School, telling just under 2,000 students about the toll opioid and other addictions had on him and hoping to keep them from a similar fate.
The afternoon began with an abbreviated version of the ESPN film "Chris Herren — Unguarded," a video that featured Herren's career (Fresno State University, the Denver Nuggets, Boston Celtics and overseas teams) with comments from friends, family and coaches, and his long, hard fall due to opioid addiction (hooked on drugs that go by the brand names of OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet, according to the book "Basketball Junkie: A Memoir"). Heroin would play a part in his life as well, once crashing into a utility pole and pronounced dead for 30 seconds.
Seven years ago, Herren began his public outreach to students, talking to them at gymnasiums throughout the country.
"I truly believe in my heart, it's helped some of them," he said, noting he has been sober for 91/2 years, having suffered through four overdoses prior to his recovery.
On Monday, he spoke to students with no punches pulled, recalling the little girl who once tried to ask a question at an assembly who was instead ridiculed. That girl later told him a story of how her father was an alcoholic and her mother had depression and how she suffered from a cutting addiction. Seven years later, Herren still receives emails from that same girl every 30 days, which the former professional basketball star counts as a victory.
Herren told students he could understand why they wouldn't want to listen to an older person lecture then about the dangers of drug use because he felt the same way during the assemblies he sat through as a youth.
But Herren became a rising star to the point that an author followed him and 14 of his teammates — many who had their own issues with drugs and alcohol — for a year during their high school careers.
"Seven of us became heroin addicts," the former star somberly told students.
Herren said he knows that many students laugh at drug use among peer, when what they really mean to say is, "I'm really starting to worry about you, man."
He told them he started drinking beer he had taken from his father when he was only 14 years old.
"There's not one thing cool about it," he told those assembled in a gym where you could hear a pin drop, "just a lot of sadness and confusion in a little boy's life."
Herren went on to say that his father is dying a slow death due to alcohol abuse, and told stories about a young man who popped pills while playing video games and later died of an overdose, and of a young man who once hugged Herron after being ridiculed following one of the retired athlete's assemblies. That youth later shot himself (and his mother shot herself as well, after finding her son).
He recalled that at one assembly, he noticed kids wearing purple shirts in the front row. They later told him they were part of a group of students who made pledges to remain sober. That inspired Herren to launch his THP, or Project Purple Initiative, a non-profit foundation designed to call attention of the dangers of substance abuse and encourage the making of positive choices.
"Unfortunately, there are kids in this gym who are struggling," Herren said, noting it's important to reach out to those who can help.
At the end of the assembly, a student came up and gave Herren a big hug as students burst into applause.
"You kids were absolutely amazing," Herren told students shortly before disappearing through a door in the gym.
Principal Andy Van Fleet later said he was moved by Herren's appearance.
"I think it's a great message for students," he said, noting that some students deny substance abuse issues.
Herren's appearance, which included a Monday night appearance at Tualatin High School, as well as a 20-organization resource fair, was sponsored by Tualatin Together and Tigard Turns the Tide, anti-substance abuse coalitions. The event was supported by Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon.