Former NBA player and recovering addict Chris Herren’s message was clear. It’s about the first day.
He encouraged students in attendance and those listening via livestream at SDNeeds2Know, the county's first juvenile opioid summit, to ask for help if they are struggling and listen to their friends if they say they are. And to help someone before they start using drugs, get addicted, or worse, die from an overdose.
“I wish I walked out of this presentation when I was a kid. I wish I'd grabbed someone who cared about me. I wish I’d walked up and hugged them and said to them ‘I’m struggling,’” Herren said. “'I don’t like the mistakes I’m making. I don’t like some of the risks I’m taking. And I feel absolutely awful about the secrets I’m keeping.'”
Instead of scaring students with his overdose experiences or sharing the number of times he had shot up, his message was to focus on the now.
“This is a chance to look within, pivot, grab a friend, and say 'let’s be different.'”
Following Herren’s moving words, students from the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts performed a play showing the pressures teens face to try drugs and how quickly fentanyl can end your life. Aaron Rubin, who became a quadriplegic after an opioid overdose, and his mother, Sherrie, also spoke to students about their experiences.
The event opened with messages from hosts Nathan Fletcher, chair of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephen, and County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Paul Gothold.
“As educators, it’s our job to make sure you fully understand the dangers that opioids and other drugs present, and to provide resources to prevent and overcome addiction,” Gothold said. “At SDCOE, we conduct presentations and assemblies across the county on topics such as the dangers of fentanyl as well as provide resources to teachers through Operation Prevention San Diego and encourage all schools to have Narcan present on our campuses.”
For schools that registered for the event, there are resources, curriculum, and videos around drug prevention available on the SDNeeds2Know website (registration password is need). Herren’s speech is also available for viewing.
According to the district attorney’s office, San Diego County continues to deal with a fentanyl crisis. Overdose deaths have increased from 33 in 2016 to almost 700 so far this year. Victims include students as young as 16 years old, and young people are experimenting with drugs as early as 12.
“San Diego needs to know that the pills or powder currently sold on the streets, likely contain fentanyl, DA Stephan said. “Literally one pill can kill and has killed in every neighborhood of our county.”
The event was organized and supported by the District Attorney’s Office, the San Diego County Office of Education, County Supervisor Fletcher, and made possible with assistance from donors, who included HIDTA, Sycuan, Natural High, Hazelden Betty Ford, the Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force, and the Warshof Family. The summit was organized by Deputy District Attorney Terri Perez when she served as chief of the District Attorney's Narcotics Division.