Statewide program hopes to tackle addiction before it starts

BOSTON — As a former Boston College Eagle and Boston Celtic, Fall River's Chris Herren can spot talent on the court. However, it’s not always talent that he's on the lookout for at his annual summer camp in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.

“The scariest thing about this illness is nobody knows who has it yet. There's kids in this camp right now that have no idea what's coming,” said Herren.

The illness he’s is referring to is addiction.  Fourteen years of cocaine, pills, and heroin use destroyed his basketball career and nearly destroyed his life.

Since becoming sober in 2008, Herren has made it his mission to keep others from the path he ended up on.  His foundation, The Herren Project, will provide resources for a new addiction prevention program launching in every middle school across Massachusetts.

“When it comes to drugs and alcohol it's like taboo and nobody wants to talk about it. It's not necessary to just talk about drugs and alcohol. we want to talk about self-esteem, self-worth,” said Herren

The new initiative is called Project Here.  A portion of the funding comes from the office of the Massachusetts Attorney General, it's also funded by a grant from General Electric.

"I don't think that there's been an issue that has had a more profound affect a deeper effect on families and communities than addiction and this opioid crisis," said Attorney General Maura Healey.

Healey says Project Here will provide educational kits to help middle school students talk and learn about the dangers of substance abuse. It will also make more social workers available to kids affected by the epidemic.

They will also introduce a mobile app designed by The Epicenter Experience that will provide easy access to prevention resources for students, parents and teachers.

“While we have mandated that we talk to children and young people about drugs and substance use, we haven't comprehensively provided the resources and so that's what this is about,” Healey said.

The statistics are alarming, one in ten people will be impacted by substance abuse before the age of 18.

Roger Oser is the principal at William J. Ostiguy High School in Boston, one of five drug recovery high school's in Massachusetts. He says statistic show middle school students are ripe for expanded outreach.

”For recovery high school students, the average age they start using is 11 years old. Fifty percent of people who develop addiction issues start using before they are 15,” said Oser.

For Herren, he’s hoping that a lesson taught young will hopefully be a lesson learned for life.

"I think once parents, administrators, and teacher get that message that we need to talk and communicate with our children about what's going on with their life. I think then we can have a great impact," said Herren.