Former NFL Quarterback Ray Lucas Returns to Alma Mater to Share His Story of Overcoming Opioid Addiction with New Jersey High School Student Athletes

Millburn, New Jersey, UNITED STATES

PISCATAWAY, NJ, April 26, 2023 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Hundreds of high school athletes from throughout the state received an education on the risks of prescription opioids from former NFL quarterback Ray Lucas at Rutgers University on Wednesday. The event was part of the Knock Out Opioid Abuse initiative, a program created by the Partnership for a Drug-Free (PDFNJ) and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, in collaboration with the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA).

Lucas, a former star quarterback at Rutgers who enjoyed an eight-year career in the NFL, shared stories from his playing days and detailed how he developed an addiction to opioids and achieved recovery. He urged the students gathered at Jersey Mike’s Arena to stay educated and informed about the risks of prescription opioids.

“Playing sports is such a great part of growing up, but injuries will happen, so make sure to ask the questions about what you are being prescribed for pain and ask for help if you need it,” Lucas said. “Addiction can happen to anyone at any time.”

Nearly 20 high schools brought students to hear Lucas tell his story, and athletes from Rutgers also attended. The event, which was the eighth of 10 events to be held for high school students as part of the Knock Out Opioid Abuse initiative, was moderated by Emmy-award-winning anchor Steve Adubato. New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and Rutgers University Athletic Director, Pat Hobbs delivered opening comments.

“Student athletes are at increased risk of injury and more likely to be prescribed pain medications.  They are leaders in their school and that means they can help shape attitudes about opioids and substance use disorder more broadly,” said Uli Diaz, Senior Vice President, Government and Community Affairs, Horizon. “When Ray Lucas tells you that opioid addiction is tougher than any opponent he faced, it makes an impact. We encourage students to carry that message back to their communities and help us knock out opioid abuse in New Jersey.”

Football took its toll on Lucas, who sustained numerous injuries and underwent more dozens of surgeries during and after his playing career. He became dependent on prescription opioids, at times taking more than 1,400 pills a month. He has been open about his addiction and recovery in an effort to help others who have struggled with addiction and to prevent youth athletes from going down the path to addiction.

In 2022, more than 2,800 people in New Jersey died of drug overdoses, a majority of which involved some form of opioid.

Student-athletes have an elevated risk of opioid use as sports injuries send more than 2.6 million children to emergency rooms every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The mission of this virtual conversation will be to educate student-athletes on the risks of prescription opioids, as well as the importance of taking care of themselves physically and mentally.

A Monitoring the Future survey also found that adolescent participants in high-injury sports had 50 percent higher odds of nonmedical use of prescription opioids than adolescents who did not participate in these types of sports. Students who are prescribed an opioid before graduating from high school increase their risk of future misuse by 33 percent.  

“New Jersey residents continue to experience the negative impact of the opioid epidemic. It is vital to reach student-athletes and educate them about the dangers of prescription opioids,” said PDFNJ Executive Director Angelo Valente. “We all need to be part of the solution. We thank Ray Lucas for sharing his story with students, and to Horizon and NJSIAA for making these events possible. We also thank Rutgers for helping to bring student athletes from so many New Jersey high schools together for this important program”

# # #

Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey: Best known for its statewide substance use prevention advertising campaign, the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey is a private not-for-profit coalition of professionals from the communications, corporate and government communities whose collective mission is to reduce demand for illicit drugs in New Jersey through media communication. To date, more than $200 million in broadcast time and print space has been donated to the Partnership’s New Jersey campaign, making it the largest public service advertising campaign in New Jersey’s history. Since its inception, the Partnership has garnered 217 advertising and public relations awards from national, regional and statewide media organizations.

About Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey
Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the state's leading health solutions company, and its affiliates provide a wide array of medical, dental, vision and prescription insurance products and services. Horizon is leading the transformation of health care in New Jersey by working with doctors and hospitals to deliver innovative, patient-centered programs that reward the quality, not quantity, of care its members receive. Learn more at Horizon BCBSNJ is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association serving approximately 3.8 million members.

About the NJSIAA: Established in 1918, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) is a voluntary, non-profit organization comprised of 436 accredited public and non-public high schools. A member of the National Federation of State High School Associations, the NJSIAA conducts tournaments and crowns champions in 33 sports. Championship competition for girls is sponsored in basketball, bowling, cross country, fencing, field hockey, golf, gymnastics, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, outdoor track, winter track, volleyball, and wrestling. Boys’ championships are determined in baseball, basketball, bowling, cross country, fencing, football, golf, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, swimming, tennis, outdoor track, winter track, volleyball, and wrestling.


Ray Lucas Addressing NJ High School Student Athletes at PDFNJ’s Knock Out Opioid Abuse Student Athlete Initiative New Jersey Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin Giving Opening Remarks at the PDFNJ’s Student-Athlete Initiative