You’ve heard about it. The motorcycle. The crash that destroyed my basketball dreams and almost killed me at the age of 21.
But you probably haven’t heard about my addiction to prescription pain medication, which started soon after my accident. That addiction nearly killed me a second time.
It began innocently enough: I was in pain, so my doctors prescribed me pain medication — powerful prescription drugs including OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet.
Soon, reliance turned into addiction. I wanted to numb not only the physical pain, but also the emotional and psychological trauma of coming to grips with a life without basketball. The medication had vicious side effects, like frequent chest pain, irregular heartbeat, difficulty breathing and swallowing, extreme drowsiness and more.
I am lucky that I found a way to break the addiction, but many millions of Americans aren’t so fortunate. Despite the fact that it’s so widespread, addiction to pain medication is one the most underaddressed topics in our society.
It comes down to how we talk about treating pain.
Which brings me to the topic of marijuana.
Our culture is progressive about a lot of things, but in some corners, marijuana is still vilified and misunderstood. I believe that marijuana, which many experts agree is less addictive and less prone to overdose than pain meds like OxyContin, must be an integral part of the conversation about how we treat pain in our everyday lives.
Pain is part of sports, too. Always has been, and always will be. Athletes put their bodies on the line day in and day out, and they will always be looking for ways to get back out on the court or field.
Today, marijuana is punished with steep fines and suspensions in our sports leagues. But pain isn’t going anywhere. Seeking to keep playing the sport they love, many athletes suffering from injury become dependent on the same types of doctor-prescribed painkillers I did in order to cope.
And look, I’m not advocating for marijuana for treating all types of pain or for all types of people, but what I am saying is: As long as pain exists, people will seek ways to cope with it. It’s just a matter of what they seek out. And I worry about athletes and non-athletes falling into the same cycle of dependence on prescription opiates that I did.
In this video, I talk about what I believe is a double standard in the way private institutions deal with — and talk about — marijuana.
Jay Williams is the author of Life Is Not an Accident, published by Harper Collins, January 2016.