Thursday, February 16, 2017

“Rebound” Rivets Audiences Young and Old in St. Mary’s County

Though more than 400 people were packed into the auditorium at Leonardtown High School Tuesday, Jan 24, there was no shuffling of feet, no whispering, and no extraneous noise at all. All attention was fixed on the stage, as Chris Herren, once a rising star in the NBA, told the story of his addiction and how he lost everything he had once dreamed of in the hunt for one more high.

Entire families eagerly absorbed every word of Herren's poignant story of addiction and his journey through recovery. Herren chronicled his early experiments with alcohol while still a freshman in high school, behavior that he said was nothing out of the ordinary in his hometown. His addiction really began to spiral out of control. Even so, he managed to be drafted by the Denver Nuggets in 1999; he then was traded to the Boston Celtics after his rookie year. Achieving his life-long dream did nothing to curb his continuing need for drugs, however.

Herren hit rock bottom after suffering several overdoses and did not achieve sobriety until 2008. He now travels the country telling his story in the hope that he can help others who are struggling with the temptation to abuse drugs or alcohol. He recently made a stop in St. Mary’s County.

Chris Herren's presentation to the community was made possible through the efforts of the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office, partnering with the St. Mary’s County Public School system and the St. Mary’s County Department of Aging & Human Services. A portion of this event was paid for with grant funds from Aging & Human Services and monies seized from local drug dealers by the St. Mary’s County Sheriff’s Office Vice/Narcotics Division.

Capt. Daniel Alioto, Vice/Narcotics Captain at the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office, commented, “When I saw Chris Herren a few years ago, I made it my goal to bring him here to present to our local youth and their families. Anytime we can facilitate conversations surrounding drug misuse and abuse the chances of us being successful in our fight against the drug epidemic increases immensely.”

In addition to the presentation for the community at large, Herren also spoke to juniors and seniors at each of St. Mary's County's high schools.

“Chris Herren presented to packed gymnasiums in all three of our high schools. You could have heard a pin drop as he asked 5,000 teenagers why they would need to use alcohol or drugs to have a good time with their friends. He recounted his insecurities that drew him to drugs to forget and asked that each person there look inside themselves and ask “why” they are doing what they are doing - whether it be drugs or alcohol, or making choices that they are embarrassed or ashamed to share. Chris definitely had an impact, and we are thankful for a community of partners who made that happen,” said Superintendent Scott Smith.

Locally, 59% of middle and high school students have used alcohol in the last 30 days. Twenty percent (20%) of those are under the age of 13 and 32% claim to be currently using. Nationally, young adults (age 18 to 25) are the biggest abusers of prescription opioid pain relievers, ADHS stimulants, and anti-anxiety drugs. In 2014 alone, more than 1700 young adults died from prescription drug overdoses.

St. Mary's County Sheriff Tim Cameron added, “This presentation, combined with the “Chasing the Dragon” event that was held a few months ago, helps to showcase our commitment to drug awareness and prevention efforts in St. Mary’s County. The partnership of our co-sponsors at the Board of Education, St. Mary’s County Department of Aging & Human Services and the St. Mary’s County Health Department has been extremely beneficial, and we appreciate their collaboration.”

Captain Alioto of the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office adds, “The positive feedback we have received as a result of Chris’ presentation highlights the importance prevention and education play in the commitment all of us share in addressing this critical topic. We are already planning our next event.”

Chris Herren's presentation was held during National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week®, which was launched by scientists at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to stimulate educational events in communities that teach teens what science, has learned about drug use and addiction. Since 2010, one week of each year has been set aside in an effort to link students with scientists and other experts who can counteract the myths about drugs and alcohol that teens get from the internet, social media, TV, movies, music, and from friends. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism became a partner starting in 2016, and alcohol was added as a topic area for 2017. NIDA and NIAAA are part of the National Institutes of Health.

(L-R) Sheriff Tim Cameron, Chris Herren, and Superintendent Scott Smith 
(L-R) Sheriff Tim Cameron and Chris Herren