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Anti-drug message scores in Swampscott

SWAMPSCOTT – It can?t happen to me.That?s what Chris Herren would think when he sat in assemblies such as the one held at Swampscott Middle School Wednesday. A speaker would warn students of the dangers of getting involved with drugs and alcohol, and Herren would barely pay attention. After all, what?s the big deal about a few beers and some weed, he thought.It would take him half a lifetime to truly understand what the big deal was.Herren told the 350 seventh- and eighth-grade students that he had his first beers when he was in the eighth grade; he smoked for the first time six months later; and he did his first line of cocaine at age 18.?One line turned into 18 years (of drug abuse),” he said.Herren?s story is compelling for many reasons, none bigger than the fact he is alive to tell it. For him, rock bottom was being dead for about 30 seconds after overdosing in Fall River in 2008. He was brought back to life in an ambulance and recalled going into the ER at a hospital in his hometown and being looked at like “just another junkie.”?I was going to end my life that day,” he said. “I thought my best option was suicide.”On the way out of the hospital he ran into a friend of his late mother who told him she was going to get him some help.Sober since Aug. 1, 2008, Herren travels the country speaking to middle-school students, collegiate and professional athletes, and anyone else in between who wants to hear his message. He said he will be speaking to the Florida State football team prior to its national semifinal matchup with Oregon.Prior to hearing directly from Herren Wednesday, Swampscott students watched segments of “Unguarded,” the ESPN special that chronicles his fall from a local superstar who scored 2,000 points at Durfee, earned a scholarship to Boston College and eventually played for the Celtics to an addict who was so desperate to get high on Oxycontin that he left the building before his first game as a Celtic to meet his dealer outside the FleetCenter.He subsequently played professional basketball several years overseas, where he discovered heroin, nearly leading to his ultimate demise.After the video, Herren urged students to have the courage to not turn to drugs and alcohol to make them feel better about themselves.?The question I ask every kid to ask themselves is, ?What is it about me that I can?t be myself? Why on Friday and Saturday nights do I have to change who I am??” he said.The message was clear: Don?t give in to peer pressure – and if you already have, it?s not too late to seek help.?You can hit the brakes and start over,” said Herren, a 39-year-old who is married with three children. “Don?t wait until you are 32 years old like I did.”A Q&A session evoked some powerful exchanges, including a few students who tearfully spoke of the challenge of having a family member struggling with substance abuse. One especially courageous student stood up and told Herren she had just gotten out of the hospital and that she has been “clean for a month.”He approached her and they shared a lengthy embrace as her classmates applauded.

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