Former Miami Dolphins quarterback Ray Lucas planned to kill himself.
He would wait for his wife and three daughters to go to the 11:15 a.m. church service one Sunday, then drive off a New York bridge.
That, he figured, would end all the pain.
After career-ending injuries — one of his most devastating came in a Dolphins matchup against Green Bay in 2002 — Lucas had retired, but the pain of the game stayed with him. While struggling with the relentless aches accumulated over eight seasons, Lucas became addicted to prescription pain medication, eventually falling into a desperate fog that lasted two years. In the worst of his spiral, Lucas was popping 800 pills a month, still in pain, broke, broken and ready to die. It was a phone call from a medical group four days before his planned suicide that saved his life.
“I believed I was a drain on my family,’’ said Lucas, now a studio analyst for SportsNet New York. “I didn’t even think of myself as human anymore. I was afraid to live.’’
Today, 20 months clean after medical treatment and a 42-day detox in a drug rehabilitation center near West Palm Beach, Lucas is a free man on a confessional tour of sorts, sharing his story uncut — the grip of the habit, the depression, the devastating losses, the helplessness, the hope, the recovery — to shatter the stigma of opioid dependence and to help others in the throes of addiction. In 2010 alone, some 12 million people reported misuse of prescription painkillers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“I still have some kind of pain every day of my life. But now I have the tools to deal with it. I have rebuilt my family and am now the husband and father I want to be,’’ said Lucas, who turns 40 next week. “And I want people to know they are not alone. There is help out there.’’
A brash backup, Lucas went public with his battle last year about a habit that was costing more than $2,000 month. During treatment, he began posting his most personal moments of pain on a Facebook page as therapy, but also as a way to encourage others, particularly NFL players struggling with addiction.
After he emerged from the treatment center, Lucas didn’t stop sharing and now lends his voice to TurnToHelp.com, an educational website sponsored by Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals. The site offers users information about opioid dependence, treatment options and a network of doctors who specialize in the field.
“I know firsthand how overwhelming it can be to determine a clear path forward. I became addicted to prescription painkillers after undergoing numerous surgeries for my sports injuries,” said Lucas, who is a paid spokesman for Reckitt Benckiser. “Seeking medical help was the best thing I ever did as I went from a man who lost his job and home to reclaiming my place in life again as a husband, father and professional.”
Lucas started his career as a backup quarterback in 1996 with the then-AFC Champion New England Patriots. Three years later, he had a standout season as a New York Jet, replacing an injured Vinny Testaverde, winning six of the nine games he started. Lucas joined the Dolphins in 2001, and the next season he started six times, including the game against the Green Bay Packers in which he took a bruising blow to the shoulder and neck, an injury that caused excruciating pain well after he stopped playing.