I come from a football family. Across the South and much of the country, including in the Wiregrass region of Alabama where I live, it’s almost a religion. Working-class kids here dream of growing up to play football in college and the NFL.
Our family gathered around the TV every weekend to watch the Crimson Tide, the Auburn Tigers, and the Georgia Bulldogs play. Every year there were new recruits to size up, with ribbing about which college had the best lineup starting way before the season.
For working-class families like mine, watching a big game on TV is often as close to college as we get. But that didn’t keep my family from dreaming: My stepfather, who was a top player in high school, started all three of my brothers in football as soon as they could walk.
But our love of football came at a steep price. My brothers and stepfather now all suffer chronic pain from football injuries — and have struggled to overcome dependency on painkillers.
My youngest brother, Donald, has suffered the most.
A real standout, he made varsity as a freshman. As a middle linebacker, his job was to hit hard — so he started lifting weights at age 10. Doctors warned his muscles were too big for his build, which could lead to injury. But his coaches always put him back in the game, even when he was hurt, because he was so good.
By 17, Donald had a torn hip bone and crippling migraines from the constant “stingers” or pinched nerves he got making hits. He once suffered a concussion so bad both he and the player he hit were hospitalized. He now has three herniated discs and permanent nerve damage.
As a senior, these injuries forced Donald off the team. Once a straight-A student, he was told he couldn’t graduate because of his medical absences, so he lost hope and dropped out.
Donald did find temporary relief from his pain in opioids his doctor prescribed. But like many, he soon found these prescriptions weren’t enough. He doubled the dosages. And when he lost health insurance, he turned to the street for more drugs to help him through the pain.
Donald, once a star athlete with so many cheering him on, was left on his own to suffer.
The tragedy is that there are lifesaving medically assisted treatments, like buprenorphine, which could have helped Donald, because they reduce withdrawal symptoms and prevent relapse. But current restrictions make it nearly impossible for doctors to prescribe this lifesaving care.
That’s why it’s so important for Congress to pass the Mainstreaming Addiction Treatment (MAT) Act now. This bipartisan bill would remove restrictions that currently prevent health care providers from prescribing lifesaving treatments, and launch a national education campaign on best practices for treating substance use disorder.
Members of Congress from both parties and over 400 groups nationwide support the MAT Act, which passed the House with 402 votes in June. Now all that stands in the way of recovery for millions of Americans is a vote in the Senate this fall.
My senator, Tommy Tuberville, has yet to announce how he intends to vote. But as Auburn’s SEC title-winning former coach, He should know how injuries and addiction can affect the lives of talented young players like my brother Donald. I hope he’ll do what he knows is right for Donald and so many others, and pass the MAT Act.
Nearly 108,000 Americans died from preventable overdoses last year. This loss is tragic. But it’s even more tragic that we have treatments we know can save lives, but outdated laws prevent medical professionals from offering them to patients.
Call on your senators to support the MAT Act.