NEW YORK – Award-winning filmmaker Jonathan Hock has teamed up again with former professional basketball player and wellness advocate Chris Herren to take a deeper look into the struggles facing our youth today, including substance use, other harmful behaviors and mental health problems. The First Day film, presented by Center on Addiction and Cigna, is a new approach to prevention education. It focuses on the reasons why young people turn to substances in the first place, rather than dwelling on later stages of the disease of addiction.
Since 2011, Fall River native Chris Herren has shared his message with over 1 million people nationwide, following the release of the ESPN Films 30 for 30, Unguarded, in which Jonathan Hock chronicled Herren’s rise on the hardwood, harrowing drug use, the collapse of his career and his journey to find recovery. Over the past eight years, Herren has seen first-hand the need for a new approach to addressing addiction.
“The focus oftentimes is about the worst day when it comes to speaking about addiction and not the first day,” said Herren. “Kids and parents need to understand how this begins rather than how it ends. Prevention starts on the first day.”
The First Day will premiere as part of a two-hour special on ESPN on July 16, 2019 that will feature the ESPN Films 30 for 30, Unguarded at 7PM ET, followed by The First Day at 8PM ET. Following the premiere, the film will be available to download through a website that will include a common core-aligned prevention education curriculum, discussion materials, teacher resources and access to programs for individuals and families seeking information, help and support.
“When I started to think about creating a new film on my journey, I knew that I needed to share what I saw in the eyes of the students nationwide,” said Herren. “As I travel the country and share my story in high school gyms and auditoriums, I have a unique vantage point. I can see the struggle and the pain. We need to uncover why our youth are turning to substances. We need to start the conversation and acknowledge that the ‘why’ is the beginning.”
“As a parent of teens myself,” Jonathan Hock added, “I see every day the challenges young people face navigating their lives – both real life and on social media – amid so much stress relating to identity, school, drugs and alcohol. Making a new film with Chris was another, even greater opportunity for me to change lives as a filmmaker. The First Day is for young people, but it is also equally for parents, teachers, community leaders and mentors. Chris has something to say to all of us so we can reach this new generation in need, and I think it’s the most important film I’ve made in my career.”
Presenting sponsors for the film include Center on Addiction and Cigna. Center on Addiction, a science-based organization, has been a leader in addiction research and recommending best practices for prevention and treatment of substance use disorder for over 27 years. Merging with Partnership for Drug-Free Kids in January of 2019, Center on Addiction expanded its direct-to-family resources providing information, support tools and programs from prevention to recovery. Cigna, a global health service company, is collaborating to find innovative pathways to address issues such as opioid misuse and the disease of addiction.
“The First Day powerfully expresses what we know to be a profound truth from our quarter century of work: more than 90% of people with substance use disorder start using before age 18,” said Creighton Drury, CEO of Center on Addiction. “We are proud to partner with Chris Herren to provide families, educators, coaches and all caring adults with the knowledge they need to catch addiction early. The film empowers people to have important conversations with kids and support them in making healthy life decisions.”
“We recognize the toll that substance misuse and addiction take on the health and well-being of people young and old, on families and communities and on society,” said Mike Triplett, Cigna’s president for U.S. commercial markets. “We are partnering with organizations, including Center on Addiction on The First Day film, to put young people on a healthier path and build more vibrant communities.”
National nonprofits Center on Addiction and Herren Project are partnering around The First Day film to provide support to individuals and families impacted by substance use or addiction. Center on Addiction offers a parent helpline available through text, email or phone, as well as peer support and educational materials to address the spectrum of substance use, from prevention to treatment to recovery support. Herren Project provides assistance with treatment placement, long-term recovery support for individuals and families – including virtual support groups – as well as prevention education programs for schools and communities. A percentage of all film download proceeds will be used by the nonprofit partners to expand access to services and programs.
“Herren Project is proud to be a nonprofit partner of The First Day film. The First Day brings an element of empowerment to the topic of prevention. It shows our youth that there is strength in coping with life’s challenges without drugs or alcohol,” said Kevin Mikolazyk, Executive Director of Herren Project. “By fostering conversations in schools and communities, we can all help make a difference in the wellbeing of today’s youth.”
Research by Center on Addiction shows that nine out of 10 individuals with substance use disorder started using by the age of 18 and that more than half (57%) first used an addictive substance prior to the age of 15. Prevention education programs have been shown to reduce early use of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana and other drugs. The First Day film is an innovative approach to address the issue of substance use and refocus the conversation around addiction from the last day to the first. The film, paired with educational materials and a discussion guide, were created to complement evidence-based programs implemented within school systems and communities.