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CNN Highlights Opioid Epidemic In Hour-Long Town Hall Special

By Victoria Kim 05/13/16

"This is a public health epidemic, but it is completely manmade."

CNN Highlights Opioid Epidemic In Hour-Long Town Hall Special
Anderson Cooper and Dr. Gupta discussing the painkiller epidemic in the CNN special Photo via CNN

On Wednesday night, CNN aired a town hall discussion on the opioid epidemic—the root of the problem, what's being done to fight it, and the stories of opioid users themselves.

The hour-long special was hosted by Anderson Cooper and CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Former NFL quarterback Ray Lucas was in the audience, and shared his story of becoming hooked on opioid painkillers after a football injury, eventually taking up to 1,400 painkillers a month. “I was a functioning addict,” he said, describing how he would make regular TV appearances for the New York Jets during the height of his addiction. Once he was off the air, he said he would rush off set to take 15 pills, and then another 15 on his way home.

“I bankrupted my family, and I put my wife and kids through hell,” he told the audience. But with time and the patience of his family, he was finally able to receive help and commit to sobriety. “I survived and I overcame my addiction and I tell my story to make sure people know out there that they can overcome it,” he said.

Lucas has been open about his recovery from opioid painkillers for several years now. The Fix interviewed Lucas back in 2012, when he was just 20 months sober. He described the hell he went through, and the importance of sharing his sobriety with others. “When you receive the gift of sobriety, if you don’t give it back, you don’t get to keep it,” he told The Fix at the time. “It’s a sin not to share success stories, because a lot of people don’t think they can do it.”

The CNN town hall also featured commentary from addiction specialists, doctors, and other recovering addicts. Dr. Leana Wen, the Baltimore City Health Commissioner, said the root of the epidemic has to do with America’s obsession with quick fixes. “We have this culture of giving a pill for every problem, this culture of a quick fix,” she told the hosts. “And that’s something we have to change.”

The stigma of addiction is still very much alive, but Lucas is no longer afraid to talk about it. “I tell my story, and I’m not ashamed because I think opiates have changed the face of what people think are addicts," he said during the town hall. "I’m an eight-year NFL veteran, graduated from Rutgers University, but I’m an addict. And I will always be that way.”

Watch Ray Lucas share his story at the town hall in the video below:


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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr

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