Ocean City —
Former Boston Celtics player Chris Herren explained to an audience of Ocean City intermediate and high school students how he came to overdose on a bag of black tar heroin extracted from a chain of baggies a man in Bologna, Italy kept hidden down his throat. He also told the students how he would overdose two additional times before committing to a life of sobriety.
Like many other stories of addiction, Herren began his talk on Friday, April 27, with what he believed was harmless experimentation in high school.
Herren, who grew up in Fall River Mass., was Durfee High School’s top basketball player who scored 2,073 points in his high school career.
Herren and friends in high school would drink and experiment with pills including Vicodin.
Herren attended Boston College his freshman year of college, but transferred to California State University, Fresno.
By his junior year of college Herren had a cocaine problem. A half hour before one nationally televised game, Herren was doing cocaine in the arena’s parking lot.
His coach requested he take a drug test afterward. Herren told him not to bother. He wouldn’t pass.
That night, Herren’s coach held a press conference for Herren admitting his cocaine problem. Herren went to a 28-day treatment center in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Herren’s girlfriend became pregnant his senior year of college. They married, Herren’s son was born, and Herren was drafted to the Denver Nuggets.
His teammates, knowing of Herren’s addiction, kept an eye on him and Herren had a successful rookie season in the NBA.
Herren held a barbecue with his wife and high school friends to celebrate his success.
That night, his friend asked him to take a walk with him.
“Remember when we’d mess around with Roxys (Roxicodone) and Vicodin and Percocet once in a while? I said yeah. He said, there’s this new drug out. He reached in his pocket. When he reached in his pocket he pulled out this bag of yellow pills. He said these are 40 milligram Oxycodone. They’re $20 bucks. Do you want one?”
I had no idea that that $20 was going to turn to $25,000 a month dope habit,” Herren said.
By his second season in the NBA, Herren was traded to the Boston Celtics, becoming one of six people who grew up in the New England area to have that distinction at the time.
“I jumped on a plane, the first person I called was not my mom and dad to say, “Hey, your son, I’m a Celtic’... It was that drug dealer to say, ‘hey, I have a press conference at 12 tomorrow... be in the parking lot waiting for me.’”
An injury ended Herren’s career with the Celtics. Herren played for several teams in Europe. First in Italy, where Herren was introduced to heroin, then to Poland, where Herren quit the team because at the team’s training camp in the mountains he would not have access to his dealer.
In Istanbul, Herren tried to FedEx a package of Oxycodone to himself. A FedEx worker, a former fan of Herren’s, removed all of the pills from the magazine they were meant to be hidden in.
Herren returned to California soon after, and overdosed a third time. That time, Herren was pronounced dead for 30 seconds.
He committed to treatment shortly before his third child was born in 2008.
“My worst days have become my best days,” Herren said on recovery. “Doing these. I’ve seen it all. But I just want to let you know something. The most commonly asked question I get when I come into high schools is, ‘Mr. Herren, are alcohol and marijuana gateway drugs?’ I look them dead in the eye and say, “I hung out with a lot of crack heads and heroin addicts. I was one... Every addict that I ever met started off in an assembly like this saying, ‘I’ll never take this stuff forever.’”
The program was sponsored by the Ocean City Education Foundation and a grant through the Ocean City Free Public Library.