When former NBA Player Chris Herren was 18 years old, he sat in an auditorium listening to former New England Patriot Steve DeOssie speak about his battles with substance abuse and addiction.
At the time, Herren did not pay attention to DeOssie’s cautionary tale. Instead, he goofed around with his friends during the lecture and believed he could never end up like DeOssie.
By the time he was 33 he had become addicted to Oxycontin, heroin and cocaine, become a convicted felon, been nearly homeless, and nearly dead.
Now sober since 2008, Herren finds himself delivering speeches to kids, just like the one from Steve DeOssie that he never listened to.
He has firsthand knowledge that high school students are a difficult audience to reach, but says if he could just help one of them, all the lectures are worth it.
“It just takes one,” said Herren Tuesday night to an audience at Seekonk High School.
Herren began drinking when he was 14, going to parties with his basketball teammates at Durfee High School in Fall River.
When he got to Boston College he was introduced to cocaine by a girl who said “It won’t hurt you” and did the drug despite his knowledge of its consequences from the tragic death of Boston Celtic draft pick Lenny Bias. After suffering a season-ending hand injury in his first game of his college career, he delved deeper into the drugs to cope with not being able to play.
Ultimately his addiction got him kicked off the team and out of the school. He was given a second chance at Fresno State, where he continued to fail drug tests and refuse help.
When he was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in 1999, his teammates knew of his problems and worked to keep an eye on him, especially during road trips, and keep him away from drugs.
However, the season ended, and he returned to Fall River where a friend introduced him to Oxycontin. He started taking 1,600 milligrams a day and spending $25,000 a month on the pills.
Herren turned to heroin when he went to play basketball overseas in Italy and could not speak Italian well enough to say Oxycontin. He would instead point to his arm and buy black tar heroin.
"I was only playing basketball to support a drug habit,” said Herren.
Drug devastated the family, too
While Herren’s addiction derailed his basketball career, he says that’s not the most important thing he lost. When he was a junkie he pawned his children’s toys, his wife’s jewelry and said there was often no heat in his home and his children would go to bed hungry.
In June 2008, he overdosed and woke up in the back of the ambulance after being legally dead for moments. Former teammate and NBA star Chris Mullin paid for him to go to a rehab center in New York.
After 40 days sober at the center, Herren wanted to go home to see the birth of his third child. His doctors advised him not to leave the center yet, but he did go home to see the birth.
That same night he bought heroin and his wife kicked him out.
Herren has now been sober since August of 2008 and is back together with his family. He shares his story with students and others to make them aware of the dangers of their actions.
“The choices you make when you are 15, 16, years old will make you as an adult,” said Herren. “They drink and smoke because they are not happy with who they are, but they should be.”
In addition to speaking to groups about his addiction, Herren has started a non-profit organization called “The Herren Project,” which offers assistance to those struggling with addiction.
To learn more about Chris Herren and his story, you can read his book “Basketball Junkie” or view the recent ESPN documentary, “Unguarded.”