Athletes may be at a greater risk for opioid addiction

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Opioid addiction doesn't discriminate. It can happen to anyone young or old, male or female in any socioeconomic class.

It can also strike athletes at the top of their game. In fact, some say they may even be at a greater risk.

One former Philadelphia Eagles player is sharing his story, how he got hooked, how he got clean and how he is now helping others battling addiction.

It was a dream come true for Chris T. Jones. In 1995, he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles and his career got off to a good start.

"I caught five balls the first year, 70 balls the second year," Jones said. He and receiver Irving Friar combined for a record 158 catches.

But going into his third season, things took a turn. Jones injured his knee when he was tackled during a pre-season game.

"Back then, Veterans Stadium was like concrete, it was like padding on concrete-boom," remembers Jones.

He would suffer several more injuries and undergo numerous surgeries and his dream of playing professional football was over.

"That's when I really sunk into depression," he said.

He says that, combined with medication for pain while playing and after surgery, led him down a dark path of addiction, pill-popping, using cocaine and alcohol.

He struggled for years. But the athlete in him, all those years of training, along with faith, came back to save him.

Jones said, "I had that coach in my ear, I kept telling myself you can do this, you can do this."

After several stints at rehab facilities, Jones finally beat his addiction. He now works with Banyan Treatment Centers (Florida-location,) helping others get clean.

John Beecroft, executive director at the Langhorne location, says athletes falling into addiction is all too common, many times it's sparked by an injury.

"Orthopedic injuries, things like that, they're chronic and you start talking about back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain and it's very difficult to manage. And when you're prescribed opioids, it's a ticking time bomb," Beecroft said.

He says it takes just 30 days to get hooked. Changes have been made to limit prescriptions and look for other ways to manage pain, but Beecroft says more needs to be done. Jones says anyone prescribed opioids needs careful oversight.

"They need to be policed from day one. If they want that person to be successful and not get hooked, they need to monitor it, big time," Jones said.

Jones has now been clean and sober for eight years. He tells others it won't be easy but if you fight for yourself, you can overcome addiction. By the way, Jones tells me he still bleeds green, he's still an Eagles fan.
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