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Grant Hill speaks out about the nation’s opioid crisis

The NBA legend is on his way to the Hall of Fame, but he won’t let that overshadow his latest passion

On Sept. 7, millions of basketball fans will witness NBA playmaker Grant Hill’s induction into the 2018 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Hill helped Duke win two NCAA titles (’91, ’92) and was the ACC Player of the Year. He boasts a 19-year NBA career, including seven All-Star selections, and he’s now part-owner of the Atlanta Hawks.

But his accolades do not overshadow his community work and his latest passion: fighting opioid addiction.

Hill has teamed up with Choices Matter, a campaign designed to empower and encourage surgery patients to proactively discuss postsurgical pain management, including non-opioid alternatives, with their doctors. He partnered with the campaign once he realized its goals were aligned with his.

“It’s been fun and it’s been consistent, and aligned with how I believe in terms of playing against pain and the campaign, and just really try to make people aware there’s an epidemic right now in our country and this is just a way to try to minimize that, and to try to prevent people from going down that road that we know so many have as a result of overprescription of opioid pain medications. So it’s important, it’s the right thing, and I’m excited to be a part of it.”

During his NBA career, he underwent 10 surgical procedures and was prescribed painkillers. His short-lived brush with opioids ended when he asked his doctor for an alternative to the painkillers.

“I had so many surgeries during my playing days. And as you go through your pain management process, you are exposed to so much, so many opioids. I just never liked how I felt,” Hill said.

“So I’m given a bunch of pain meds to manage my pain,” he said. “And I just felt horrible and did not like how I felt, and could not wait to get off. At that point, you start investigating, talking to doctors, trying to get a sense and understanding of what it is you’re taking. And at that time, the internet was just sort of in its infancy. But you realize how dangerous and addictive these drugs are, but that was the only protocol that was around.”

He went through more surgeries, but before one of his final operations, he was exposed to an alternative, eliminating postsurgery pain meds.

“It’s like, wow, there’s another option,” Hill said. “Having that exposure, that experience, and also understanding that at the same time this opioid epidemic is occurring, [I’m] really just trying to make people aware as they go through their surgical procedures that there are options for pain meds, that there is an alternative.”

Hill describes his alternative as a block, “a numbing agent that they insert into your body and it lasts for three or four days, which is typically the time period where pain postsurgery can be where it intensifies and can be problematic. Once that block wears off, typically the pain has started to go away and you had no exposure to any opioids.”

A United States for Non-Dependence report, conducted by the QuintilesIMS Institute and issued in September 2017, found that enough opioids were prescribed in 2016 for every man, woman and child in America to have 36 pills each.

“Anytime you have surgery, and whether you’re an athlete, whether you’re a weekend warrior, whether you’re a stay-at-home mom … whatever it is or whatever you do, and whenever you’re considering having surgery, you want to be able to sit with your doctor and really understand what you’re about to embark upon, not just from a pain management standpoint but also just understanding what the surgery is, what they’re doing and what the recovery is,” Hill said. “And if anything I’ve learned through my 10 surgeries during my career is really to educate yourself. And I think the same thing goes in terms of what are my postsurgery pain management options.”

According to Choices Matter, 1 in 3 families in the United States is affected by addiction. Hill, who is the father of two daughters with his wife, singer-songwriter Tamia, takes his responsibility to educate his children about drug use very seriously.

“As a parent, that’s part of your responsibility, to try educate and inform, and then try to use your own experiences,” Hill said. “Dad’s had surgeries, Dad’s taken these things, Dad doesn’t like how they made him feel. And having this type of back-and-forth, I think as a parent, is healthy and important.”

In October, President Donald Trump declared the epidemic a public health emergency. On Nov. 4, 2017, Hill showed his support for ending the epidemic by appearing at the Atlanta 5K Run/Walk hosted by the nonprofit organization Shatterproof. He’s also part of the organization’s national campaign, Rise Up Against Addiction, which works to end the stigma of addiction. More than 58 teams participated in the event that raised more than $1.75 million for the crisis in which only 1 in 10 Americans seeks treatment and 141 people die of an overdose daily, according to Shatterproof.

“It was a great event. It was cool to see folks who are recovering, had been through it or maybe had a family member who had been through it, and sort of just coming together and bringing awareness, raising money. … There’s a real sort of community that it can really galvanize, and I saw that firsthand,” Hill said.

According to an article in The New York Times, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows studies that reveal the opioid drug death rate is rising among blacks between the ages of 45 and 64. “Drug deaths among blacks in urban counties rose by 41 percent in 2016, far outpacing any other racial or ethnic group. In those same counties, the drug death rate among whites rose by 19 percent,” the article reveals, finding that the drug fentanyl is one culprit.

“I’m not an expert when it comes to politics, but I think there needs to be a serious conversation,” Hill said. “I think we need to bring in folks who are experts, bring in people in the medical profession to have open and honest conversation, to discuss it.

“So much of this is the result of people being overprescribed from doctors and there being drugs left over, and people using them and becoming addicted,” Hill said. “You don’t need 50 pills for a surgery. Trust me. I’ve had 10 of them, I know. That’s when you have issues. That’s when stuff is hanging around and it gets in the hands of the wrong person … And next thing you know they have an issue. I do think the conversation needs to be had and there needs to be pressure put on our government officials to do something.”

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.