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Former NBA player Chris Herren to speak at anti-drug events at Naperville North

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Back-to-back presentations planned at Naperville North High School next month will aim to drive home the message that drug abuse can detour even the most promising of futures.

Professional basketball retiree Chris Herren will speak to parents and community members at 7 p.m. Feb. 18, and to students in an all-school assembly the following day, offering a look at the substance abuse that hounded and ultimately ended his athletic career.

After a standout stint on the court in his Massachusetts high school, Herren played for Boston College and Fresno State University. A second-round NBA draft pick, he played for the Denver Nuggets, the Boston Celtics, and several teams in Europe and Asia even as he developed a drug habit that began with cocaine and moved on to Oxycontin, then heroin.

“Basketball Junkie,” his 2011 memoir, relates his journey through addiction. Herren also is the subject of the 2012 documentary “Unguarded,” which received two Emmy nominations.

Sober since Aug. 1, 2008, he now he takes his message to communities where the development of drug dependency has become all too familiar.

Naperville North Principal Kevin Pobst said the appearances had their genesis more than a year ago, when the school formed the Healthy Huskies Committee.

“It was focused really on the increasing concern (about) a growing awareness of student drug use, through what kids were telling us, what we were hearing and seeing on social networks,” Pobst said.

Heroin use has soared in the suburbs in recent years, with DuPage County tallying dozens of overdose deaths in 2013. Will County Coroner Patrick O’Neil had confirmed 35 fatal overdoses for the year as of Dec. 5, but some of last month’s deaths remain under investigation, a spokeswoman in his office said, so the total may go higher.

Naperville teens have been among the casualties, including current and former students at Neuqua Valley High School and North. Some have been lucky; North graduate Doug Stvan, now 32 and recovering from heroin addiction, has told his story to local media and groups, stressing how faith played a powerful role in sparing him from death.

School officials, Pobst said, had decided the time had come to educate students, parents and teachers about “a new landscape of drugs in Naperville and in DuPage County.”

They consulted with their peers at Neuqua, and partnered with KidsMatter in Naperville and the Robert Crown Center for Health Education in Hinsdale, and established the student organization Rise Above to take on the problem as well.

Herren looked like the perfect choice to help with the public launch of the effort, Pobst said.

“We had seen him at Benedictine (University) in the summer of 2012,” he said, adding that the athlete-turned-speaker is in great demand, and charges a substantial fee to bring his message. “He has such a powerful story and he tells it in a very personal way. You can’t hear it and not be moved.”

In addition to the Healthy Huskies committee and Rise Above, the appearances are being sponsored and funded through partnerships with the Naperville Police Department, Rosecrance, Linden Oaks, Alexian Brothers, Cadence, NNHS Home & School, several NNHS student organizations and private donors.

Pobst suggested that the urgency of the drug problem is difficult to overstate.

“I know it’s almost become kind of routine thing,” he said. “But for those of us who watch kids and what’s going on with them, it’s awful.”

Herren’s community presentation will take place at 7 p.m. Feb. 18 in the field house at Naperville North High School, 899 N. Mill St., Naperville. Admission is free.

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