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Ray Lucas: Painkiller addiction my problem, not the NFL’s problem


At a time when close to 2,000 former NFL players are suing the league over health problems that they blame on their playing days, it comes as something of a surprise to hear from a former NFL player who dealt with a health problem that started with a football injury, but who pointedly does not blame the NFL.

Ray Lucas, who played quarterback in the NFL for eight seasons, says that the painkiller addiction he struggled with in retirement stems from medication he was prescribed while recuperating from injuries suffered on the field. That does not, however, mean he thinks the game of football is responsible.

It was after a series of injuries playing in the NFL that I was taking prescription painkillers,” Lucas told Toni Monkovic of the New York Times. “After having major back surgery, I tried to stop taking the painkillers, and that’s when I first experienced withdrawal.”

For Lucas, part of beating his addiction was taking personal responsibility for getting the right treatment for it.

“I don’t think of my addiction as an NFL problem,” he said. “It’s my problem. It’s true that my tolerance grew because I took painkillers when I was hurt, but the fact is that I chose to take those pills. I want other people to know that if they see their tolerance growing, rather than just upping the number of pills, talk to a doctor to figure out what’s really going on and what the best steps are for you.”

And Lucas said he doesn’t agree with those who suggest that football is a dangerous activity for children.

“I’m an athlete, and football opened doors for me,” he said. “I wouldn’t change my past for a moment and wouldn’t be where I am today without football. Competitive sports are good for kids; there are life lessons that go far beyond the football field.”

Lucas deserves credit for speaking out about his addiction. And for tackling his problem himself, rather than looking for someone to blame.