Students attend summit on drug awareness

Shaun+Derik%2C+a+motivational+speaker+from+New+York%2C+addresses+West+Virginia+students+at+the+WVSSAC+Opioid+Awareness+Summit+Sept.+18.
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Students attend summit on drug awareness

Shaun Derik, a motivational speaker from New York, addresses West Virginia students at the WVSSAC Opioid Awareness Summit Sept. 18.

Shaun Derik, a motivational speaker from New York, addresses West Virginia students at the WVSSAC Opioid Awareness Summit Sept. 18.

Blake Newhouse

Shaun Derik, a motivational speaker from New York, addresses West Virginia students at the WVSSAC Opioid Awareness Summit Sept. 18.

Blake Newhouse

Blake Newhouse

Shaun Derik, a motivational speaker from New York, addresses West Virginia students at the WVSSAC Opioid Awareness Summit Sept. 18.

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An opioid summit focused on warning West Virginia students about the dangers of drug addiction as they enter into adulthood took place at the Cam Henderson Center on Wednesday afternoon.

The event was organized by the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission who teamed up with both Marshall and West Virginia University to present the Game Changer Initiative, which aims to combat the opioid epidemic by promoting awareness and compassion with the goal of expanding education, and to eventually change behavior, according to the initiative’s website. 

The event featured three guest speakers: Shaun Derik, motivational speaker from New York, Chris Herren, former NBA player from Massachusetts, and Rhonda Sciortino, motivational author from California. 

Derik initiated the event by interacting with the crowd through music and a series of chants to get the students excited, but the tone of the event changed when Herren went on stage, talking to the students about his personal experiences with drugs and how they affected his career.

“For the last 10 years, I have dedicated my life to traveling across the country telling my story,” Herren said. “I’ve had a responsibility of walking into gyms like this and presenting my story in front of over a million students, and I truly believe in my heart that it has made a difference in some of those people.”

Herren was the 33rd pick in the 1999 NBA draft, eventually getting the opportunity to play for the Boston Celtics.

He said his struggle with drug addiction began when he got to college and continued into his adult life, ultimately leading to his retirement from professional sports in 2006.

After almost losing his life to multiple overdoses, Herren said he decided to enter into recovery, working to gain back his trust from his family and friends. He then wrote the book “Basketball Junkie” in 2011, documenting his downfall with drugs as a professional athlete, and now travels the United States sharing his story with the hopes that it will deter individuals from going down the same path as he did.

“I wish somebody had walked into this arena for me when I was your age,” Herren said. “I wish they would have pulled me into the hallway and said, ‘if you’re so tough, confident and comfortable, then why in the world do you need to do this stuff to yourself?’ I wish I had listened to them.”

Bernie Dolan, the WVSSAC executive director, spoke about how he thinks it is important to have people who have had personal experiences with addiction to talk to the students, so that they fully understand how serious addiction can be.

“You have to have as many real events as you can, and I think when people like Chris Herren are talking, that’s a real event,” Dolan said. “That is a real person who has been through it personally. From my standpoint, I think talking to someone who has experienced addiction personally is effective when we are discussing something that all our kids are dealing with.”

The Game Changer Initiative is a part of a larger WVSSAC plan that Dolan said hopes to conduct more events throughout the next few years to promote drug awareness in schools.

Although the talks were centered around preventing students from using drugs, Derik commented on how there is not always as much emphasis placed on where to turn afterwards.

“The thing is that we’ve been talking about drug awareness since most of us have been in elementary school,” Derik said. “Historically, we’ve told our kids to turn away from drugs, but we never really tell them what to turn to. That’s why we have game changers now. If you’re turning away from something, where are you going to go? If you want to really fight this thing, you have to make sure you are involved in something healthy, positive and beneficial for your future.”

The speakers, all from different states in the country, also agreed that the effects of the addiction epidemic have reached beyond the state lines of West Virginia.

“We need to stop talking about West Virginia like this is their problem, it’s the country’s problem,” Derik said. “What I hope to happen in West Virginia is that it will be the first state to change so that we can mirror it for the rest of the country.”

Blake Newhouse can be contacted at [email protected]

Blake Newhouse
Shaun Derik, a motivational speaker from New York, addresses West Virginia students at the WVSSAC Opioid Awareness Summit Sept. 18.

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