Former NBA player Chris Herren stopped by the Bradley Center on Monday to share his story of overcoming alcohol and drug abuse. Students from Ramapo, as well as community colleges and local high schools, gathered at the event hosted by the Mahwah Municipal Alliance to hear Herren tell his inspiring story.
“This is a problem that affects every corner of this county,” said Bergen County Prosecutor Gurbir Grewal as he introduced Herren to the large crowd. “Hardly a day goes by that we don’t have a heroin or opioid related arrest, overdose or fatality in our area.”
Grewal also shared some startling facts that show just how much of a problem drugs are in our community.
“To date, we have had 235 overdoses. 181 of which were related to heroin or opioid abuse,” he said. He added that two more overdoses had happened this past weekend, bringing the 2016 total to 237.
Grewal explained that the prosecutor’s office is restructuring how they deal with drug cases. Instead of just imprisoning offenders, they are offering them the chance to go to a clinic and overcome their addiction.
“This is no longer a law enforcement issue. It’s become a law enforcement and a public health crisis,” he said.
Grewal, among countless other local officials, are pushing for drug education programs so that current students do not suffer the same fate Herren did.
“Chris Herren was a high school basketball legend,” said President Peter Mercer. “He realized his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA only to lose it all to the nightmare of drug addiction.”
Former NBA player Herren has been sober since Aug. 1, 2008, but it was a long and hard journey for him to get there.
Herren began his story by recalling his own days as an athlete at Boston College and how much he dreaded listening to speakers about drug abuse.
“At 18, I was ignorant,” he said. “I believed that I was above it.”
He went on to explain that later that night, peer pressure caused him to try cocaine for the first time, “having no idea that at 18, telling myself it would be just this one time, that it would be 14 years.”
His continued abuse of drugs affected his basketball career many times over those 14 years.
Herren was expelled from Boston College for failing multiple drug tests. He then fell into a depression, until the basketball coach from the California State University in Fresno decided to give him a second chance. However, it was not long before he failed another drug test and his coach forced him to hold a press conference and attend rehab if he wanted to continue playing.
When the Denver Nuggets drafted him into the NBA, Herren found a strong support system in his new teammates. Despite that, when he went back home to Massachusetts for the offseason, an old high school friend approached him with a new drug, relatively unknown at the time: oxycontin.
“I didn’t know it, but that decision just changed my life forever,” he said. “That one little pill would turn into 1600 milligrams a day… I was checking back into training camp a full blown junkie all because one pill and a $20 bill.”
Herren returned to Colorado determined to leave his addiction behind him, but just five days into training camp, he learned that he had been traded to the Boston Celtics. It should have been his dream come true, instead he was filled with apprehension.
When he returned to Boston, his addiction worsened. He spent his first night as starting point guard rushing to meet his drug dealer instead of warming up. Eventually, he would leave the Celtics for an international team, but he would even give that up after learning of a mandated team week in the mountains.
His Oxycontin addiction eventually led him to heroin and that was when his extreme problems began. He suffered multiple overdoses and became a regular at the hospital in his hometown where the people who were once his biggest fans now looked at him in disgust.
“I had the brightest future and the biggest dreams and now I was their biggest embarrassment,” he said.
Even after a friend paid for an intensive rehabilitation program, it was not until the birth of his third child, when his wife threatened to leave him, that he took the idea of being sober seriously.
Since that day, Aug. 1, 2008, Herren has been sober.
One of his biggest regrets, says Herren, is how poor of a father and husband his addiction caused him to be. He shared stories of how people will chant “heroin” at his son’s basketball games and how no one showed up to his daughter’s eighth birthday party because no parent wanted their child around him.
He finished his presentation by urging all of the students and community members present to take his message seriously, unlike he had done at their age, and to learn from his mistakes.
“The drug epidemic and heroin addiction has become a huge problem in the Bergen County area,” Student Government Association president Erin McKenna told the MMA. “College is a time when students have a chance for newfound freedom, and they might take that freedom and dive into darker things such as hardcore drugs and that’s definitely not the route we want our students here at Ramapo to take.”