Rex Chapman pens personal plea in fight against opioid addiction

Rex Chapman joined the UK Sports Network’s Kentucky basketball pregame show last fall.
Rex Chapman joined the UK Sports Network’s Kentucky basketball pregame show last fall. jtipton@herald-leader.com

Rex Chapman, the onetime “King” of Kentucky basketball who saw his life spiral into an embarrassing theft arrest as the result of his opioid addiction, on Monday published part of his story and an appeal for more state and federal efforts to combat America’s opioid crisis.

“I know all too well how powerful the pull of opioids can be,” Chapman wrote in an article titled “Our National Pain,” in Monday’s issue of Sports Illustrated. “I played basketball at Kentucky in 1986-87 and ’87-88 and enjoyed a 12-year NBA career. After multiple injuries and seven surgeries, I developed an addiction to prescription painkillers. My masters were Vicodin, OxyContin and Suboxone, and they led me into a life of isolation and erratic behavior and, in the fall of 2014, to my arrest for retail theft. (I later entered a guilty plea, paid restitution for the items I stole and was sentenced to 750 hours of community service.)”

Chapman has been by all accounts thriving ever since and last year joined the UK Radio Network as one of its pregame show co-hosts ahead of every Kentucky men’s basketball game.

“Though I was fortunate enough to get a grip on my addiction, I realize that millions of Americans are suffering. That’s why I am working to bring awareness and to influence policy makers to address this plague. My home state of Kentucky has been especially hard hit. In 2015, more than 1,300 Kentuckians died after drug overdoses, many with opioids in their system.”

The problem needs more state and federal funding, Chapman argued, and he said he hoped partisan politics could be put aside to help curtail the abuse of painkillers.

“This isn’t a partisan problem,” he wrote. “It’s a human one.”