If you are old enough you might remember in the 1980s there was an advertising campaign that was the focal point in the war on drugs at that time. 

Kevin Williams with former Giants running back Keith Elias (Kevin Williams, Townsquare Media NJ)

Created by then First Lady Nancy Reagan the campaign was built around three words: ”Just Say No.” It garnered a lot of attention, both good and bad and like in most cases there is no way of knowing if young people resisted the temptation of trying recreational drugs by just saying no.

Of course it’s 2015 and we are still waging war on drugs although the game has changed a bit.  We used to think the big problems were limited to cities and urban areas and we now know it’s very much in our own backyard.  Heroin has become the drug of choice for many, including teen-agers and there is the growing problem of use and abuse of pain-killers and other prescription drugs.

Thursday night more than 1,000 student-athletes from the area attended a forum hosted by the Ocean County Prosecutors Office at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River.  Former Giants running back Keith Elias, a high school star at Lacey, moderated a panel discussion which included Cincinnati Reds All-Star Todd Frazier, MMA fighter Frankie Edgar, Soccer Hall of Famer Tony Meola and former basketball standout Erin Cowley, who is a 24-year clean recovered addict.

The words of all resonated with most of those in attendance but it was featured speaker Ray Lucas who might have had the greatest impact.  The 42-year old former Rutgers quarterback and 8-year NFL veteran chronicled his battle with pain-killers which began when he suffered a back injury five years into his career.  The pain and abuse got worse and rock bottom saw him taking as many as 1,400 pills per month and losing just about everything he had while even planning his own suicide.

Ray Lucas addresses the Play It Clean event (Kevin Williams, Townsquare Media NJ)

Eventually Lucas got help and got better but the road back was not easy and of course not all beat the addiction.  Clearly the best advice all gave was to “Play it Clean” which was the theme of the evening.  Kudos to all involved especially Ocean County Prosecutor Joseph Coronato, Assistant Prosecutor Anthony Pierro and the Toms River School District for hosting the event.

I had the honor to serve as Master of Ceremonies and introduce Elias, who is as comfortable spreading the word about right choices as he was running around and over opponents on the football field.