Ex-NFL quarterback Ryan Leaf highlights opioid summit in Billings

Posted at 4:02 PM, Oct 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-23 18:03:50-04

BILLINGS – The opioid crisis continues to take a tremendous toll on America– from crime, to broken families, to overdose deaths. And Montana isn’t immune.

On Monday in Billings, BlueCross BlueShield of Montana presented the Montana Opioid and Addictions Summit. The one-day event featured a number of speakers with a focus on finding ways to promote prevention and treatment efforts.

While the event featured some of the best minds in the state from a clinical, legislative, and policy standpoint—it also featured a former NFL player, who knows the powerful grip that opioids can have. Ryan Leaf was the arguably the most highly touted football player to ever come out of Montana– a first-round draft pick in the NFL. He later became addicted to drugs and even served time in prison.

Leaf talked to the crowd for well over an hour—recounting his story of addiction.

“I blamed everybody but never took an actual look in the mirror at myself,” Leaf says.

He admitted it took a long time to put the blame on himself for the problems that plagued him after his short NFL career came to an unceremonious end.

“The crazy thing about opiates are that it is a vicious cycle where you have to feed this addiction, but you have all this guilt and stuff about who you’ve been– this junkie, liar, thief, and addict,” he said.

After his arrest for breaking into a home near Great Falls and stealing painkillers, Leaf says he even went as far as attempting suicide.

“I looked up ways to kill yourself on Google, and I slit my wrist and the scar is still here and I can see it every day as a reminder,” he said.

While Leaf eventually turned his life around in prison, he says he does not think putting people behind bars for drugs is the solution to the drug problem in America.

“Well I think the solution is decriminalization. I think the model that Portugal uses is pretty self-explanatory on how we reduce crime, reduce prison population and reduce for-profit prisons in this country. I think we are long way off that, but right now it’s about raising awareness and continuing to shine a light on the problem and not imprisoning non violent drug offenders but getting them the help that they need,” he said.

Leaf says when he began concentrating on serving and helping others, his life began to turn around. He’s now seven years clean, but not taking anything for granted.

“It’s always there unless you continue to attack it every day with a maintenance program. And if you don’t you go right back to where you started except your body is not able to deal with the tolerance like it used to and you go right back to where you started and that means your life might end that day as well.”

Leaf has started a foundation to try and help those who can’t afford drug abuse and mental health treatment. He also covers Pac 12 college football on radio and TV, and he’s now the proud father of a 1-year-old baby.

Story by Russ Riesinger, Q2 News