Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall shares stories of struggle, recovery

<p>Former athletes turned addicts, family members of survivors and victims of the opioid epidemic spoke at Friday's town hall.&nbsp;</p>

Former athletes turned addicts, family members of survivors and victims of the opioid epidemic spoke at Friday's town hall. 


At Friday’s Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall at the Rutgers Athletic Center (RAC), Rutgers Athletics Director Pat Hobbs, former Rutgers football and NFL quarterback Ray Lucas and attendants shared their experiences in dealing with the effects of the epidemic on themselves or loved ones. They also shared how to overcome and prevent the same to future young athletes and college students. 

The town hall is part of a two-year campaign run by the New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, where he is changing law enforcement mechanisms for the opioid epidemic as well as raising greater awareness through town halls in every county in the state. 

Leading off the event, Hobbs said that when he was working for the state in 2013, he and his team investigated the drug abuse and found that the majority came from opioids. 

Transitioning to the current status of the epidemic, Hobbs said that of the approximately 3,000 deaths in the state to overdose in 2018, there were approximately 16,000 people who were saved with an opioid antidote. 

“So, that easily could have been 20,000 people dead here in New Jersey alone,” Hobbs said. 

Then, the town hall transitioned to a panel discussion led by Angelo Valente, executive director of Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey (PDFNJ). 

Lucas said that after leaving the NFL, his insurance made it impossible to get surgeries for his neck and knee injuries. So, he began taking opioid pills instead. 

In a span of three years, Lucas said he went from taking 125 to 1,400 pills a month. 

“I could’ve killed everybody in the front row with the amount of pills I was taking,” he said. 

One day, he decided that he could no longer go on in life and was going to drive his car to the George Washington Bridge, when his daughter came into his room and told him she loved him. So, instead, he went to rehab. 

“There are 88% of people who go to rehab and fall flat on their face,” Lucas said. “But for me, it's not about the fall on your face, it's about the getting up.” After 42 days in rehab, Lucas said he left and has been clean ever since. 

He had four neck surgeries and 13 knee surgeries since leaving rehab, and he had dealt with the pain.

Greg Vetrone, director of Player Development for the Rutgers basketball team, said that his daughter had entered rehab 12 times in seven years. When his daughter went to a party at 15 years old, she never thought that she would be taking oxycontin three years later, and then shooting heroin two years after that. 

“This is a disease. Yes, it is a self-inflicted disease, but it is a disease,” Vetrone said. 

Vanessa Vetrone, Greg Vetrone’s daughter, is currently in a facility with his grandson in New York, where they will remain in treatment for at least a year. 

John Hoffman, a former acting attorney general of New Jersey and current senior vice-president and general counsel for Rutgers University, said that while fighting the epidemic as attorney general, where he brought in new laws and ways to enforce the crisis, he was also dealing with the problem personally. 

His sister-in-law was struggling with mental health issues and opioid addiction. She later died of an overdose, Hoffman said. 

“This affects everybody, it discriminates against nobody,” Hoffman said. 

The event went on take some questions from the audience, including two other survivors of opioid addiction. 

The town hall was hosted in partnership with Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield, the state’s largest health insurer. Members of the company helped organize the town hall, as well as the opioid awareness event during Saturday’s Rutgers football game. 

“Statistically speaking, among us is someone who is using with a problem,” Hobbs said. “Today is the day they should come forward, and ask for help.”


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