NBA Legend Grant Hill Speaks Out Against Overprescribing Opioids

By Paul Fuhr 10/02/17

The NBA All Star has joined a new awareness campaign to educate the public about the dangers of painkiller addiction.

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Grant Hill
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Retired basketball player Grant Hill is speaking out against the overprescription of opioids after surgery. The seven-time NBA All-Star forward and current co-host of the series NBA TV's Inside Stuff knows a thing or two about surgeries: Hill underwent 11 surgeries during the course of his stellar, 18-season career.

In a recent Forbes article, Hill maintained that surgery can be a road straight to addiction—but it doesn’t have to be. Hill revealed that he didn’t give much thought to prescription painkillers after his many surgeries, until one instance resulted in an allergic reaction to them.

“[I] got off pain medications as quickly as possible,” Hill said. “I learned that one has to take ownership of one's health.” He’s since become a very vocal critic of opioid overprescription and is now doing everything he can to educate others about the drug's potential dangers through the Choices Matter campaign

Hill first encountered opioids when he fractured his ankle in 2000 during the playoffs. Unfortunately, no one warned him what dangers the drug carried. “I didn’t even know the word ‘opioid’ at the time,” he acknowledged, claiming that the typical course of action was to “have surgery [and] then get these pills.” A recent report confirms that this is still largely the case, as “9 out of every 10 patients undergoing surgery received opioid prescriptions afterwards.”

Researchers also revealed that in 2016 alone, a staggering 3.3 billion pills went unused by patients, which is “enough for almost half of the entire world’s population to have one pill each.” (The report indicated that, on average, a patient receives 85 prescription opioids.) Forbes also notes that aside from using opioids to manage pain, post-op patients may also use the "potential euphoric effects" of the drugs to curb feelings of loneliness, depression and frustration that arise because of an inability to function at 100%.

While the former NBA legend understands the reasons that people become addicted to painkillers, he doesn’t believe the medical community is doing enough to move the needle on the epidemic. Case in point: despite global awareness of the problem, 11.7 billion opioids were prescribed in 2016 alone, Forbes reported. That’s what makes the Choices Matter campaign so incredibly important, Hill believes. The campaign seeks to not only educate patients about opioid addiction, but to plan for post-operation pain management. If nothing else, it’s all about knowing what choices are out there.

“There is a need to educate everyone, including consumers, health care providers, payers, and employers, about alternatives to opioid medications,” Shatterproof founder and CEO Gary Mendell told Forbes. “And for them to ask for options, they need to know what they are.” Mendell also noted that opioids pose a heavy financial burden on the medical industry. 

Forbes also notes that dozens of opioid alternatives currently exist, with even more being developed all the time. Among the options are “immersive virtual reality, cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, meditation, massage, and acupuncture”—not to mention counseling, physical therapy, and non-opioid pain medications like acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs).

In fact, NSAIDs are front and center in the argument that dentists are a huge part of the over-prescription problem.

For his part, Grant Hill wants to ensure that patients know their options before they go down a path of abuse where there aren’t any options left. “In managing pain after surgery, you do have a choice,” Hill said. “And choices do matter.”

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at paulfuhr.com. You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.

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