NASHUA — Listening intently to former Boston Celtics player Chris Herren share his tale of drug addiction, Shania Popwin was moved beyond words.
Popwin was one of hundreds of Nashua freshmen who on Wednesday had the opportunity to listen to Herren speak about his use of cocaine, OxyContin and heroin that ultimately led to a downward spiral and near suicide attempt.
“It was a very deep message,” said Popwin, a student at Nashua High School South. “Here is someone who used to be so great and was just devastated by drugs.”
Popwin plays basketball herself, and someday hopes to be drafted by the Women’s National Basketball Association. She said Herren’s fate, brought on by a series of bad choices, made her realize the importance of staying clean.
“We all start off with red Solo cups,” Herren told freshmen from the city’s three high schools who were gathered together at Nashua High School North for the powerful anti-drug message.
Herren, a Massachusetts native, has struggled with drug use since he was first accepted at Boston College to play basketball in 1994. His time there, however, was short-lived after he was kicked off the team for repeatedly failing mandatory drug tests.
At the age of 18, Herren snorted his first line of cocaine during his freshman year, promising himself it would be a one-time thing.
“It took 14 years to walk away from that one line,” said Herren, who eventually lost his scholarship at Boston College and moved to play ball at Fresno State in California.
It was Herren’s second chance at a basketball career, but it didn’t last long when he was busted for cocaine and his face was plastered on the front of Boston newspapers. Herren said he went to drug rehabilitation for 28 days.
Things seemed to be looking up for Herren when he was drafted to play for the Denver Nuggets, got married, had a baby boy and bought a home. In 1999, however, Herren found OxyContin and that changed his life forever, he told the students.
“I was a full-blown junkie at 22 years old,” he said.
While going through withdrawal from the OxyContin, Herren said he was traded to the Boston Celtics — a lifelong dream that felt like a nightmare because he couldn’t kick the habit.
As the newest member of the Boston Celtics, Herren said he was preparing for a news conference but the only thing he could think about was his next fix.
Two years later, when Herren was playing professional ball in Italy and couldn’t find any pills, he tried heroin and quickly became an intravenous drug addict, he told the students. He shared stories of car accidents, arrests, a suicide attempt and sleeping on the streets while his children back home lived without their father.
After his third son was born, Herren was driven to his knees, literally praying for help. That was Aug. 1, 2008.
Herren is five years sober and travels throughout the country sharing his story of professional basketball success turned failure because of a small pill that cost him $20.
“I was the kid with the brightest future and the brightest dreams,” said Herren, reminding students that addiction ruins families. “The pills that you are popping are killing twice as many people per year than heroin and cocaine combined.”
He encouraged the students to reach out to their friends or trusted adults for help, saying there are other ways to escape.
“In our struggles, you’ll find strength,” said Herren.
Thomas Joyce, a freshman at Nashua High School South, said Herren’s speech was inspiring. Joyce said the message will stay with him a long time.
According to Lt. David Bailey of the Nashua Police Department, drug forfeiture money was used to pay for Herren’s presentation. This was the second year in a row that Nashua students had the opportunity to hear from the former professional basketball player.