Purple is a color associated with the country's opioid crisis.

Former NBA player Chris Herren is helping to turn Delaware purple this month through his anti-drug and alcohol program.

His mission is led by THP Project Purple Initiative, an undertaking of Herren’s nonprofit foundation The Herren Project. It assists individuals and families struggling with addiction.

Purple is a color that’s associated with the country’s opioid crisis. THP Project Purple Initiative aims to empower youth to stand up against substance abuse and make a difference.

Kent County Goes Purple runs Sept. 9 through Sept. 22.

Kent County Goes Purple, based on the THP Project Purple Initiative, is an undertaking of the Sussex County Health Coalition with support from outfits including Highmark, Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health (DSAMH) and aTtAcK Addiction.

Don Keister co-founded aTtAcK Addiction, a nonprofit to support people in recovery, after his son Tyler died of a heroin overdose in 2011.

In 2017, there were 345 overdose deaths in Delaware, up 12 percent from 308 in 2016, according to the Division of Forensic Science.

Keister said projects like Kent County Goes Purple are important to help lead people to sobriety.

“Anything that’s going to bring awareness to this issue has to happen. So many people don’t even get help because of the stigma attached to [addiction],” he said. “Being able to talk about it is a really big help in starting to combat the issue around this epidemic.”

Keister, headmaster at Caravel Academy in Bear, said his board members are bringing Herren to share his story to the Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington on Sept. 11.

Afterward, Herren, who was drafted by the Denver Nuggets in 1999, will share his story of addiction for Seaford Goes Purple.

He’ll speak to the public at Crossroad Community Church in Georgetown at 7 p.m., Sept. 11. Herren will visit Seaford High School to talk with students Sept. 12.

For these, The Herren Project has partnered with Sussex County Health Coalition.

Lisa Coldiron, SCHC grants manager, said field hockey teams at Milford High School and Seaford High School are supporting the antidrug movement and will wear purple headbands when they face off in Milford Sept. 18.

“I’m a former teacher and I sincerely mean it when I say this young generation is very mission oriented; and I believe with all my heart they will be the ones that step up and change things for good,” she said.

Coldiron taught at the Tatnall School in Wilmington for 18 years.

“I’ve worked with a lot of students and I’ve seen their hearts and they deeply care about one another,” she said. “They seek purpose. If you can engage them for good, there’s nothing that can stop them.”

The former basketball player discussed what led to addiction, why he thinks a lifetime in recovery is a blessing, and more.

How many families has The Herren Project affected?

Over the last seven years I think we’ve helped place over 3,000 people in treatment and paid for, I believe, over 1,000 sober houses for people to go to on scholarship. The Project Purple Initiative was the preventive piece to The Herren Project. And something I learned over the years is that we put way too much focus on the worst day of addiction and we forget the first day. We want to show our children how bad a drug addict looks like in the end, rather than when they begin. I think the beginning is just as powerful.

What led you to drug use?

There were multiple variables. There was alcoholism in my family. I think there was my parents’ marriage, which was in disarray because of my father’s alcoholism. I think growing up in an era/culture where “kids will be kids” and “they’re going to do what they do” was almost accepted that when you’re 14 or 15 years old it’s a rite of passage to get drunk. Unfortunately, that doesn’t work for everybody. The scariest thing about addiction is nobody knows who has it.

For people who aren’t familiar with your foundation, can you give a brief overview?

I always tell my story. It’s the journey of addiction and recovery that I’ve been part of over the last 20 years. Oftentimes people with the illness that I have feel like they can’t come back from it, and there’s never any hope. Not only can you live, but you can thrive and be successful. You don’t have to die with this. For me there was so much life left to live.

What got you back on track?

I had plenty of people in my life. My children deserved a dad. My wife deserved the husband she married. My family wanted to see the person I was meant to be. But ultimately it was about making a commitment to a different lifestyle and to surround myself with people who traveled the same road as I traveled, and who were able to turn it around. In recovery, we live with this for the rest of our life. To me it’s not a curse, it’s a blessing.

What makes it a blessing?

It changes your perspective. You tend to be more empathetic and understanding of people’s wrongs and mistakes. You want to give back and help. A big part of recovery is service work and it’s about helping others. When you go along on that journey and watch someone heal and recover and mend relationships that were completely broken, it’s special. It’s something not many people get to witness.

With other states or cities that’ve gone purple, what have they done to help keep your initiative going?

The whole purpose of me doing this, especially when it comes to the preventative piece, is to introduce it and pass the torch. It’s something that has to be, in my opinion, led by students. I think they have to embrace it. I think if it’s forced upon them by administrators, teachers and community members, oftentimes the messaging gets lost. When it’s student driven, it’s been very successful.