Celebs, Drug Addiction Experts Gather At FAU Seminar To Launch Crackdown On Substance Abuse Epidemic

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By: Dale King Contributing Writer

Former Major League Baseball right-fielder Darryl Strawberry had a phenomenal, 17-year career in the majors. Known for his copious home run tally, the intimidating presence of his 6-foot-6 frame in the batter’s box and his long, looping swing often compared to Ted Williams, he was en route to crafting an inestimable legacy when drugs came along — and messed up his personal and professional life.

He was suspended three times from the MLB for drug accusations. He bounced from team to team. His career suffered, despite efforts to improve.

Today, a renewed Darryl Strawberry is an ordained Christian minister and author who lectures about the dangers and damage of drug abuse and operates the Darryl Strawberry Foundation along with his wife.

When the Delray Beach Drug Task Force and Florida Atlantic University’s Phyllis and Harvey Sandler School of Social Work reached out to policymakers, addiction specialists and entertainers to gather at FAU last month for a “national call to action,” Strawberry was there.

So also were other celebs who’ve endured drug and alcohol woes or are still battling their demons: Pat O’Brien, former CBS sportscaster and “Access Hollywood” host; rapper and songwriter Royce DA 5; Brandon Novak, “Jackass” cast member and author; Heather Hayes, interventionist and cast member of Dr. Drew Pinsky’s “Intervention” and John McAndew, singer, composer and storyteller.

In fact, McAndrew, who said he is in recovery, opened the session by singing an original song, “Tell Me Why,” and playing the guitar.

The event, which drew hundreds on April 7 to the Carole and Barry Kaye Auditorium on FAU’s Boca Raton campus, was called a SUDTALK’’ — for Substance Abuse Disorder TALK. The speakers represented 12 disciplines, all essential components in the battle against the epidemic of addiction. The talk also allowed for personal recovery testimonies from celebrities.

As MC, O’Brien offered comments between speakers, When he first stepped to the mike, he received a round of applause, but said: “Come on, I’m an alcoholic, I need more than that.”  Clapping increased in volume.

The ex-TV host said he was in rehab “three times, which cost $60,000. I wish I had that money now.” He did back-to-back stints at the Betty Ford Clinic, he said.

Heather Hayes, CEO of Heather R. Hayes & Associates, a firm that helps people navigate the complex world of treatment and recovery options for substance abuse, told how drug use “ravages us.” She said 23 million people are currently in recovery.

“What is addiction?” she asked. “It is a sign, a signal, a symbol of distress.” She urged the audience to respect addicts for the troubles they endure. “We have to support each other,” she said. “We are not going to arrest our way out of this epidemic.”

In his speech, Strawberry struck at the heart of the problem. “Anything that alters your mind alters your brain. Do not allow your children to get a pain prescription. Parents need to turn off the TV and talk.”

He has recounted his battle with addiction in his book, “Don’t Give up on me,” which was available at the seminar.

“Substance abuse is ravaging our nation and our local community,” said Gary Kimble, executive producer of SUDTALKS. “The battle against the ever-rising tide of addiction is on-going and new tools are needed to crush the epidemic by changing the way we think, feel, believe and treat substance use disorder.”

The SUDTALKS,” he said, “will provide inspiration, hope, education and solutions to combat addiction.”

Proceeds from 2018 SUDTALKS will support essential life-saving initiatives through the continued development and expansion of the Delray Beach Drug Task Force First Responders Training Program and to support a Delray Beach Drug Task Force Community Advocate.