‘Living proof you can overcome addiction’

Former NFL quarterback Ray Lucas talks to students about his substance abuse

Albert J. Countryman Jr./The Sun Ray Lucas had 32 surgeries for football injuries and was prescribed opioid medicine to ease the pain. At one point, he was taking 1,600 pills a day.

Ray Lucas was a star quarterback for Harrison High School and Rutgers University in New
Brunswick and spent eight years in the NFL. He went on to be a sportscaster for the New York Jets and the Scarlet Knights.

But after describing his impressive career to students during a speech at the Rutgers-Camden center on Oct. 10, he simply said, “I am an addict.”

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When Lucas was an NFL rookie, he recalled coaches telling him, “Watch what the veterans do. When they get hurt, they take a pill.”

And that’s what Lucas did. “I would do anything to play in the NFL,” he acknowledged.

Since then, he’s had 32 surgeries for playing injuries and doctors once prescribed opioid medicine to ease his pain. While covering the Jets for SportsNet New York, he was taking 125 pills a month – then 600, 1,200 and finally 1,600.

“It was blind addiction,” he remembers. “I was doing the Jets on television and covering Rutgers. I was a functioning addict. When I hit 1,600 pills, I couldn’t work. I looked at my
reflection in the mirror and I didn’t recognize myself.”

He wondered of his image: “Who’s this crypt keeper?”

After his wife Cecy told him she would leave with their children, “I prayed and asked God to help me,” Lucas said.

He entered a rehab where he did not want to be. Yet Lucas stayed for 42 days and listened to the stories of CEOs, heart surgeons, dentists and other professionals battling substance- abuse disorders.

“The experience changed my life,” he maintained. “I am 52 and with my family. I knew I had to stay straight.

“I am living proof you can overcome addiction.”

His college speech was part of “The Conversation About Athletes and Opioids,” sponsored by Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, Rutgers-Camden and the Camden County Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. It came on the annual Knock Out Opioid Abuse Day in New Jersey.

“Last year, 3,000 people in the state died of a drug overdose,” said Angelo M. Valente,
executive director of the partnership, before introducing Lucas. “Parents, faculty and coaches must be aware of the risks tied to opioids and student athletes.”

Studies have shown that students who played at least one interscholastic sport during high school had greater odds for lifetime prescription opioid use, Valente noted.

But county Assistant Prosecutor Sonja Furlow had some good news for the audience.

“The number of fatal overdoes through August 2023 is down from previous years,” explained Furlow, who credited Operation Helping Hand and its links to immediate services. She credited the prosecutor’s office and the commissioners’ addiction task force for providing the overdose reversal drug Narcan to every county school in the county and for the new Mental Health Diversionary Program.

At the end of his speech, Lucas urged students to be careful of their choices and help others struggling with addiction.

“Say something,” he emphasized. “Have the courage to tell someone.”

The former NFL quarterback, sportscaster and addict is now the head football coach for Harrison High School and living happily with his family.

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