We all remember going to those “Don’t Do Drugs” assemblies at school. The ones where some doctor would come in and dryly spit drug and alcohol abuse statistics at you, and you would go on your way, rolling your eyes and thinking that the only useful thing that came out of the time was not having to go to class. Chris Herren, though, is a different story.
Former NBA player Chris Herren came to my school yesterday and told us a story. He didn’t really tell us many statistics or show us pictures of some drug addict and say, “This is what happens when you do cocaine. Don’t try it.” Instead, Mr. Herren told us his story. He told us how drugs impacted his life. What kept the 800 teenagers in that gym dead silent? He was connected. This story was real, and it was relatable.
Mr. Herren drank and smoked pot in high school, and he did his first line of cocaine in college. He told himself that he would do that one line of cocaine and never try it again, literally walking away from the cocaine after doing it. He wouldn’t be able to actually walk away from the drug, though, until more than 8 years later. He eventually became addicted to prescription pills. He went to rehab for a month, coming home for just one night to see his third child be born. That one night ruined it all; that night he left rehab and didn’t go back. This all led to Mr. Herren shooting heroin and doing crystal meth. A little over 6 years ago, after his worst overdose, he was told by a police officer that he had been dead for 30 seconds. The drugs had killed him, but he was lucky enough to be saved.
Mr. Herren’s message was that those emotionless assemblies that were solely filled with statistics only told you about the end results. No one ever spoke about the “Day 1.” No one ever talks about the party you go to on a Friday or Saturday night where someone offers you a beer, and you take it to look cool; that’s when it all starts. Out of all the current drug addicts, 90% of them started in high school. They all said, “I only drink and smoke weed. That won’t happen to me,” but it still happened. None of the kids that take that beer or that joint think about the consequences beyond their parents getting upset when they come home. They don’t think about expulsion from school or losing any chance of going to college or getting a job; they don’t think about the dependence their body will develop for the drug. Is alcohol a gateway drug? Definitely.
The kids in those statistic-filled assemblies don’t experience the same personal connection and impact that Mr. Herren was able to achieve by directly relating his stories to our own lives. He told us how there were kids just like us that were wearing the same clothes, going to the same colleges, making these bad decisions, and wrecking their lives.
What makes someone drink that beer or smoke that joint on Day 1? The kids that fall to the substance are the ones that aren’t confident with themselves. They feel that they need to change themselves in order to be good enough on a Friday or Saturday night. The kids that don’t put altering substances in their bodies are the real confident, brave, and courageous ones; they feel comfortable with themselves and don’t think that they need to change themselves. They feel good enough being who they are.
Mr. Herren lost everything in his life for a while because of his Day 1, when he just “drank and smoked” and did any of the “hardcore drugs.” He even lost his family for a time because of it. Due to his experience, Mr. Herren decided to go around the country, talking to schools about substance abuse. He began to use his bad experience to help people and to save the lives of other teens. He is different from all the other fact-spitting speakers at those assemblies because he is an activist. He takes action instead of just reading from a research study. He has even started Project Purple Initiative which encourages high school students to live sober lives.
Speaking of sobering, check these statistics: did you know that if one of your parents is an addict, you are 40 times more likely to become one yourself? That’s not 2 or 3 times more likely, that is 40 times. Every day in our country alone, 2,500 youths abuse prescription painkillers for their first time. The average age for first time users? Thirteen to fourteen. It starts younger than most would think and younger than most parents would like to believe. Take action early, before its too late, and educate others about the perils of drug use and about how to prevent that Day 1 from ruining someone’s life.
For more information on how to help, and how to be helped, visit the www.theherrenproject.org