Ex-Patriots player, wife warn against substance abuse

Chris Sullivan, a former defensive lineman with the New England Patriots, speaks with participants after his talk on Thursday.

NORTH ADAMS >> Chris Sullivan was on top.

The former defensive lineman for the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers said he was in the best shape of his life, had millions of dollars, and upon retiring from the NFL, had a Superbowl ring for the Patriots' win in the 2001-02 season.

But in his personal life, he long struggled with anxiety, depression and substance abuse.

"Even though I was using heroin, I thought, 'I can't be a drug addict,' " Sullivan said at the North Adams Public Library on Thursday. "It didn't fit in with my idea of a drug addict — someone who was dirty, didn't shower. I graduated from college, I played with the NFL."

Sullivan and his wife, Kathi, of Plainville, shared both of their stories at the library and also spoke to the Drury High School student body earlier that day. Their visit was paid with a portion of the city's Community Development Block Grant funds and was hosted by the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's underage drinking prevention program, nb21.

Sullivan said he long felt uncomfortable in social situations and often drank to excess to cope. He was prescribed painkillers following an injury, at one point taking 250 pills for a one-week trip. At his highest heroin use, he spent $1,000 a day, he said.

It took five OUI arrests, numerous stays in rehabilitation facilities, a near-death experience and support from his wife before he was able to get sober.

Kathi Sullivan's story on substance abuse concerned her daughter, Taylor Lee Meyer, who was an outgoing, athletic senior at King Philip Regional High School in Wrentham. On Oct. 17, 2008, Meyer attended a binge-drinking party in the woods and attempted to walk home. She was found three days later, drowned in two feet of water, just 100 yards away from where she and 20 other high schoolers were drinking.

Her message to parents: Know where their children are going, do not purchase them alcohol, and don't be afraid to warn another parent if they suspect dangerous behavior. She encouraged teenagers to look out for one another.

"My daughter didn't die of a brain tumor, she didn't die because a drunk driver hit her," Kathi said, a portrait of her daughter behind her. "She died because of poor choices."

Among the audience was Jennifer St. Germain with her son Jaivin Rivera, 8.

"We need more public speakers like this," St. Germain said after both presentations.

A member of the Have Hope Initiative and the Josh Bressette Commit to Save a Life organization, St. Germain said she has been in recovery herself for nine years and has lost friends to addiction.

There's a lot of shame and stigma attached to addiction, she said, and a need to show people that addiction doesn't discriminate.

"People like Chris speaking about it, I think that empowers other people," she said.

Jeff Deeley of Commit to Save a Life remarked the presentations were therapeutic — many people can relate to Chris's story; one of sadness, but ending in triumph.

"It's an epidemic," he said. "When we look at the stats throughout Massachusetts, people are dying every single day."

Contact Ed Damon at 413-770-6979.