Jeff Allison’s Road To Knocking Sobriety Out Of The Park

By McCarton Ackerman 06/10/16

The former Marlins Pitcher talks to The Fix about heroin, jail, and how he knows if he uses one more time, he won't be able to make it back.

Jeff Allison’s Road To Knocking Sobriety Out Of The Park
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At 18 years old, Jeff Allison seemed to have it all. As a pitcher, he was named the 2003 Baseball America High School Player of the Year and was drafted that June by the Florida Marlins, which included a reported $1.85 million signing bonus.

But after the death of a close friend, his recreational drug use soon morphed into a severe OxyContin addiction. As his signing bonus started to dwindle away, Allison then turned to heroin as a cheaper substitute. A pair of nearly fatal overdoses and several stints in jail soon followed. But at his lowest point, Allison found the strength to turn his life around and has now been sober for nearly 10 years.

These days, he is the pitching coordinator for the Northeast Hurricanes Baseball Organization in Salem, New Hampshire, as well as the director for their Baseball Showcase program. He also travels the country to share his story of recovery. Allison spoke exclusively with The Fix about being clinically dead after his first overdose, running from the law and why he believes this is his final shot at sobriety.

When did your drug use first begin?

Probably when I was around 13 or 14. When you’re just getting out of middle school and wanting to fit in with everyone in high school, you see they’re smoking weed or taking a sip of alcohol or whatever else. You give it a try and then you puke, but then you’re good and you try it again because you want to be cool.

Did you progress to opiate use fairly quickly?

Probably about two-and-a-half or three years in. I was first introduced to Percocet by a girl I knew when I was 16. That was me just wanting to fit in and latching onto something. When I took them for the first time, it was a euphoric feeling for me. I talked a lot more, could stay up longer. There were a million things I thought that they allowed me to do better even though I was a Division I college and Major League Baseball prospect.

I didn’t really know what addiction was at that time, though. I knew you could get addicted to things, but didn’t think I could personally. But between my high school graduation and my first full year of spring training, I had already been to rehab three times and went to two detox centers, as well as a transitional house.

When I was 18, I played when I signed (with the Gulf Coast Marlins). I threw my 10 or 11 innings at the end of the season, went home and that’s when my drug use really started to progress.

What made it progress?

A good friend of mine who was on the Gulf Coast Marlins passed away. He was 19 at the time. He went back home to Arizona, went to a party and someone put what ended up being a methadone pill in his drink while he was in the bathroom. He passed away that night, which sent me on a whirlwind of using. That was the jumping off point for me. I knew I had money and the ability to get OxyContin or pills or whatever else, so having a reason to use was a deadly game.

Did your team or the Marlins staff ever express concern about your drug use?

When I was 19, I went to my first full year of spring training and failed my drug test about two weeks in, so that was when the Marlins expressed concern. They sent me off to rehab for a few months and said they said they wanted me back when I was clean for six months. You can’t just tell a drug addict or alcoholic to come back in six months when they’re ready. Just because they pay you a lot of money in Major League Baseball doesn’t mean it’s going to change your life. It doesn’t work that way. At that time, I wasn’t ready to change my life for the better.

But I went off to Sierra Tucson in Arizona, which is a 30-day program, and thought that maybe I could just get away for a while. It really got my life together. I flew out to Chicago eight or nine months after the Marlins sent me away, met with the team doctors out there and they cleared me to be with the team.

I moved out to play with their minor league team in Greensboro, North Carolina, and that’s when things really started to get good. I played out the entire season and was clean the entire time. But when that ended, I had to go home. For me, it was always people, places and things. I started using within a week. That’s what my life was. It was intermittent periods of not using and then binge using.

Was there a point when you knew something had to change?

I knew things had to change every single time I relapsed. But when my drug use started to progress after the season in Greensboro, it started costing a lot of money. If you ask any drug addict to take out $2,500 a week for their drug habit, I’m sure they’re going to have a difficult time doing it. Everybody started taking notice of the money being gone. My financial advisors and my agents started worrying, as well as my family.

Then I found someone who had heroin. It was a lot cheaper and the guy told me it was the same feeling, if not better if I used it with a needle. The first day I used it was the first day I overdosed. I woke up in the hospital and knew exactly what happened and why I was there. I was clinically dead for about 35 or 45 seconds. My older sister took a picture of me when they were bringing me back with the paddle and swore that she would show me it if I ever came out of it. It definitely scared me when she showed me the photo, but it didn’t scare me straight.

There wasn’t really anything that could push me away from using. It felt like things couldn’t get any worse, so I might as well just keep doing what I was doing. For about six months, I used heroin and was in and out of rehabs. I was about 205 pounds during my playing days and wasted away to about 165 pounds very quickly.

How did you end up back in North Carolina after your time with the team there?

Eventually, I decided to go back to Greensboro because that’s where I did well. I thought that would be the moment when I would surface back to life again and start to think clearly. My mother and I moved down there together because she thought I needed a support system. But little did I know that I was uprooting my biggest problem, which was me. That’s when other things started happening, like run-ins with the law. I couldn’t find drugs when I first moved out there, so I literally drove into the hood and started knocking on doors to find what I wanted.

You’ve been open about your previous rehab stints not working because you weren’t ready to change. What finally made you ready?

The difference was the last time when I was in jail. I had been in jail about six times at that point. Once I went back to North Carolina, that’s when the arrests started piling up. I had about six felonies including resisting arrest and possession of a controlled substance. I stole about four cars to support my habit.

My last arrest came after I let a drug dealer use my car for a couple of hours and he ended up wrecking it. I still needed a car, so I got one. Within about 20 minutes, the police were after me and I ended up in a chase. Guns were drawn at me and I dumped the vehicle. I had so many charges against me and such drug problems that I didn’t even care. I didn’t care that I was going to prison and that they had put all of my charges running concurrently.

How long did your sentence end up being?

I went to jail and ended up staying there for about six months. I got out on bail and was supposed to handle the rest of my court business, but didn’t end up going because I wasn’t ready to go to jail. I knew I was going for a substantial amount of time, but I wasn’t ready.

But it ultimately led to my last day using, which was December 4, 2006. I was in High Point, North Carolina. It was 4:30 a.m., freezing, and I was still running from the law. I had no money, no way to get home and was literally sitting against a tree stump and trying to figure out what the next step was.

But I knew I had a chance if I could make it home one last time. I walked 33 miles back home to my mom’s place because there was no other way to get there, and that was the first day of the rest of my life. I was able to get a plane ticket back north to my friends and family. A really good friend took me in and helped me out for about six or seven months. Ever since that day, it’s been the same thought process in my mind for almost 10 years.

What are some of the things that have worked for you personally in staying sober?

In the beginning, going to a ton of meetings helped me. I always have a constant reminder every day just reading the newspaper or watching the news, because hearing all about these heroin and fentanyl overdoses makes me sick to my stomach. The statistics are astronomical. I spoke to a woman the other day at Learn to Cope, and we’re going to get together and try to help these families in the Northeast as best as we can because the numbers here are staggering.

But the main thing is that I know if I use one more time, I wouldn’t be able to make it. I don’t know how I managed on the streets when I was younger, but I don’t have another run in me anymore.

I also speak at schools and colleges and nonprofits because I just want to help one person at a time. And at the same time, I’m helping myself. I’m doing what I need to do to stay sober for that day. If I’m not involved in baseball, this is what I need and want to do. Passing my story on is something that I love and will never stop doing.

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