SEABROOK — Chris Herren had everything going for him: good looks, a strong body, athletic talent and the job of his dreams playing pro ball for the Boston Celtics. He lost it all because he couldn’t stop doing drugs.
A New England native from Fall River, this former NBA basketball player is now a recovering drug addict, following a struggle with drug abuse that haunted and ruined his career. His current mission is to share his story in hopes of preventing others from following his destructive path. He’ll deliver his message in Seabrook twice on Oct. 27 at the Seabrook Community Center.
First, at 12:30 p.m., Herren will speak to seventh- and eighth-grade students at Seabrook Middle School and ninth-graders from Winnacunnet High School in a private presentation just for them. Then, at 6 that evening, Herren will speak at a public session.
“I’ve seen him speak,” said Seabrook Recreation Director Katie Duffey. “He’s raw and he’s powerful. He’s not inappropriate, but he doesn’t hold back. He gets to you.”
Seabrook has suffered with substance abuse for years, losing young and not-so-young to opiates: heroin, fentanyl and prescription drugs. As in other communities throughout the nation, 2015 was a devastating year for Seabrook. By Oct. 20, 2015, the town had experienced 13 deaths due to opiate drug overdoses in a town of only 9,000.
This year, as of September, the number of suspected drug-related deaths is five, three confirmed, two awaiting final results from the medical examiner.
“Speaking off the cuff, it seems like we’ve seen fewer overdose calls this year so far,” said Seabrook firefighter and EMT Marc Bibaud. “But that could change tomorrow.”
Seabrook fire Chief Bill Edwards said that based on what he’s hearing from his men, the frequency of calls appears to be down, but he isn’t ready to speculate about the reasons.
“Last year, it seemed like we were getting calls for overdoses a couple of times a week,” he said. “This year it doesn’t seem as bad.”
Seabrook police Deputy Chief Brett Walker thinks perhaps Good Samaritan laws are allowing more people to report overdoses without fearing arrest.
Numbers may be down, but according to Bibaud, it often takes more Narcan — the opiate inhibitor medication — to bring victims back from the brink of death.
“I had a case the other day,” Bibaud said. “We administered two doses of Narcan nasally, then started an IV line (with Narcan) when we had the victim in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.”
The program with Herren is an attempt to prevent local children and residents from ending up in one of those ambulances with a Narcan intravenous line.
Herren, whose memoir is entitled “Basketball Junkie,” shares his stories with audiences in the hope of making a difference, of educating people to the dangers of drug abuse. He is also the founder of the Herren Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing treatment navigation, educational and mentoring programs to those touched by addiction.
“Whoever can be brought in and is willing to share their stories to convince even one or two people not to try drugs is certainly a good thing,” Walker said of the upcoming program. “You never know who will be the person who’ll get to a kid.”
Duffey said the Seabrook Recreation Department is picking up the cost of bringing Herren in for two sessions. The department is fundraising to help cover the cost, she added, and welcomes donations.
This isn’t the first drug prevention educational effort Seabrook has undertaken this year. In May, the town brought in the Mark Wahlberg Youth Foundation to screen its documentary about drug abuse. The event was organized under the town’s Office of Emergency Management, which was charged by Town Manager Bill Manzi with providing educational opportunities to the community on the serious problem of substance abuse in town that had taken so many lives.
“I think it’s good the town is establishing a series, with a variety of events to promote prevention,” said Walker, who spent two year as an undercover officer with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Drug Task Force.
Although Herren’s afternoon presentation is for students only, at 6 p.m. the public is welcome to hear for themselves about Herren’s journey.
Space is limited, however, and registration is required to attend the 90-minute evening presentation. Registration can be accomplished online starting today at www.seabrookrec.com, or by dropping by the Seabrook Community Center, located at 311 Lafayette Road (Route 1).
Admission is free for Seabrook residents. There is a $5 fee for non-residents.
Seabrook police records of drug overdose and overdose-related deaths in recent years.
28 overdoses, four resulting in deaths.
32 overdoses, one resulting in death from the opiate heroin.
55 overdoses, five resulting in death, two from heroin and two from opiate medication.
76 overdoses, 13 resulting in deaths; 11 from heroin, one from methadone.
Of the 76 overdoses, records indicate 67 from heroin or the opioid fentanyl, five from pills, two from cocaine and two from marijuana.
As of the end of August, 46 drug overdoses were documented, with five suspected drug overdose-related deaths, three of which are confirmed by autopsy, the other two awaiting toxicology determinations.