Rutgers Athletics Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall Highlights Impact of Opioid Epidemic



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Rutgers Athletics Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall Highlights Impact of Opioid Epidemic

NJ’s Attorney General, RU Football great Ray Lucas, and others bring conversation to end opioid epidemic to Rutgers students

PISCATAWAY —Rutgers University students, student athletes, faculty and members of the public filled the Rutgers Athletic Center on Friday morning to learn about the personal impact of the nationwide opioid epidemic from a group of high-profile speakers at the Rutgers Athletics Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall, hosted by the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey (PDFNJ) and The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey.

The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey and The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey held a Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall in Cape May on Friday, October 4. From left, Angelo Valente, Executive Director of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey; Ray Lucas, former Rutgers and NFL quarterback; Greg Vetrone, Rutger’s men’s basketball Director of Player Development; and John J. Hoffman, Rutgers University Senior Vice President and General Counsel.

New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal provided opening remarks prior to a panel discussion featuring former Rutgers and NFL quarterback Ray Lucas, Rutgers University Senior Vice President and General Counsel John J. Hoffman — who is also a former New Jersey Attorney General — and Rutgers men’s basketball Director of Player Development Greg Vetrone. Each panelist shared how they have been personally impacted by the opioid epidemic. Chris Carlin, play-by-play announcer for the Rutgers Football Radio Network served as master of ceremonies. Rutgers Athletic Director Pat Hobbs and Don Liss, M.D, VP and Chief Medical Officer for Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey delivered welcoming remarks.

“Addiction doesn’t discriminate between the student athlete and the blue-collar worker. It affects everyone,” said Grewal.

Vetrone disclosed that his daughter is in treatment for a substance use disorder. Her struggle began at age 15 with alcohol, and then later progressed into opioid use.

“This [epidemic] affects everybody and discriminates against nobody,” said Vetrone.

Hoffman also shared his experience losing a family member and the importance of talking about the effects of this nationwide crisis.

“When I was growing up, we didn’t talk about cancer. Slowly but surely, it became destigmatized. That has to happen with addiction,” he said.

Panelists encouraged students to not only be aware of the risks posed by prescription pills, but to take action if they suspect a fellow teammate might be struggling with substance use.

Lucas testified to his own addiction that started with a sports-related neck injury. “I was suffering in silence,” he said. “But then I realized there were other people like me.”

“If you see warning signs, be courageous and bring it to the attention of others,” said Vetrone. “Support your teammates and help them in this process.”

Pat Hobbs, Rutgers Athletic Director, also offered some advice to students who might recognize signs that indicate their teammates might be struggling with an addiction.

“Don’t hesitate to step in,” he said. “It’s better to be wrong and have a relationship challenge with a friend than to not say anything and for there to be a tragedy.”

Rutgers students also pledged to be part of the solution to the opioid crisis by signing their name and placing it on a banner staged in the athletic center during the event.

“With all of you being part of the solution, I am confident that we can begin to turn the tide of addiction.” said Grewal.

The Rutgers Athletic Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall was the fifth community event in the continuation of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey and The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey’s Knock Out Opioid Abuse initiative, a two-year initiative focusing on addressing the opioid epidemic through community outreach, prescriber education, parent education and a statewide campaign to increase awareness of the crisis. The new series of town halls builds on the progress of the Knock Out Opioid Abuse Town Hall Series from 2017 and 2018, which was held for all 21 New Jersey counties and also supported by a grant from The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey. The town halls, including the Rutgers Athletics event, are streamed live at so that anyone can attend, experience the discussion and present questions.

“Every community in New Jersey is affected by the opioid crisis, including college campuses and especially student athletes who are more vulnerable to injuries and are more likely to be prescribed opioid pain medication,” PDFNJ Executive Director Angelo Valente said. “The Rutgers town hall served as an opportunity to provide student athletes, and the Rutgers community as a whole, with a better understanding of the opioid epidemic and actions they can take to address this crisis.”

“Horizon and Rutgers University are two proud New Jersey institutions who are partners in research, academics, athletics, health and wellness and other endeavors that are improving the lives of millions of Garden State residents,” said Jonathan R. Pearson, Executive Director of The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey. “This town hall was an important way for Rutgers, Horizon and the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey to build on a statewide conversation about the opioid epidemic and help create actionable steps that connect people to localized services and solutions.”

The town hall’s message on acting to combat the opioid epidemic carried on into the following day when the Rutgers football team played Maryland. Horizon and the Partnership distributed substance use prevention resources prior to the game and also encouraged more students to pledge to be part of the solution. Horizon and the Partnership also participated in the coin toss and an in-game presentation on the SHI Stadium video board.

New Jersey residents can visit to watch videos from each event, register to attend future town halls, submit questions for panelists prior to the events and share their personal stories of how they have been affected by the opioid epidemic. It also includes an online continuing medical education program for prescribers and information on parent education through the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey’s 5th Grade Parent Alert.

More than 3,000 people died from drug overdoses in New Jersey in 2018, a majority of which was opioid-related. Nationwide, more than 47,000 people died of opioid overdoses in 2017, and official figures for 2018 could exceed that total.


About the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey: Best known for its statewide substance use prevention advertising campaign, the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey is a private not-for-profit coalition of professionals from the communications, corporate and government communities whose collective mission is to reduce demand for illicit drugs in New Jersey through media communication.  To date, more than $100 million in broadcast time and print space has been donated to the Partnership’s New Jersey campaign, making it the largest public service advertising campaign in New Jersey’s history. Since its inception, the Partnership has garnered 180 advertising and public relations awards from national, regional and statewide media organizations.

About Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey: Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey, the state's oldest and largest health insurer is a tax-paying, not-for-profit health service corporation, providing a wide array of medical, dental, vision and prescription insurance products and services. Horizon BCBSNJ is leading the transformation of health care in New Jersey by working with doctors and hospitals to deliver innovative, patient-centered programs that reward the quality, not quantity, of care patients receive. Learn more at Horizon BCBSNJ is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association serving approximately 3.7 million members.

About The Horizon Foundation For New Jersey: The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey is committed to working alongside those who can help us improve our neighbors’ health, inform their health decisions and inspire them to lead healthier, more fulfilling lives. The Foundation’s funding pillars are Caring, Connecting and Creating. Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey is the sole member of The Horizon Foundation for New Jersey, both of which are independent licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. For more information, please visit

About Rutgers Athletics

The Rutgers Department of Intercollegiate Athletics (Rutgers Athletics), comprised of 24 men's and women's varsity sports serving more than 600 student-athletes, is a member of the Big Ten Conference and governed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). Rutgers is the Birthplace of College Football, hosting the first-ever collegiate matchup on Nov. 6, 1869, a 6-4 victory over Princeton. Rutgers Athletics is uniquely positioned in the nation's largest media market with over seven million television households, along with access to the Big Ten Network and its nearly 60 million homes across the U.S. and Canada. Established in 1766, Rutgers University is the State University of New Jersey and eight oldest higher education institution in the country. As a premier academic institution, Rutgers is a member of the prestigious Association of American Universities.