Ex-NFL star discusses addiction to drugs

Former NFL and Forest Brook star John Jolly wants to return to the NFL

February 17, 2012 8:15:52 PM PST
Purple drank is a street drug that's gaining popularity. And one NFL player knows all to well about it's addictive nature.

We sat down with former Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Johnny Jolly in prison, where he serving a six-year sentence. And even though he was already on probation and was trying to get back into the NFL, he still couldn't put the purple drank down.

In high school at Houston's Forest Brook, Jolly was defensive tackle standout, and his old coach, Ronald Holmes, remembers him well.

"He was just a complete competitor," he said.

Jolly went on to dominate at Texas A&M, earning him a spot on the Green Bay Packers defensive line in 2006.

But something he once tried in high school would resurface after his first season in the NFL. It would also have him changing uniforms.

One of it's many street names is purple drank.

"That first off season, I was just doing it recreational. Just drinking, just having a drink like anybody would drink alcohol," Jolly said.

Jolly's recreational use of the codeine concoction soon turned to dependency after an injury in 2007.

"As I was drinking, I found out that it kind of numbed the pain from the surgery," Jolly said.

After surgery, he got back in shape and returned to the Packers for the 2008 season, but a different kind of pain was waiting.

"I got a call that my sister had got murdered in Louisiana. And then when I came back from that, I kind of just lost it," Jolly said.

Months before her murder, his sister asked him to look after her twin boys if anything ever happened to her. With family-related stress mounting and the pressures of the NFL to add, purple drank was becoming part of his routine.

"I've drunk it the night before the Chicago game and had a flat out good game, got an interception that game," he said. "Now I don't want to stop the night before the game, because I think I'm going to have a bad game. And that carried on all the way through the season."

It was actually his best season ever, but also his last.

In December 2009, during a traffic stop in Houston, Jolly was busted with more than 200 grams of codeine. He was arrested, charged and given probation.

Suspended from the NFL, the grip of the purple drank was as strong as ever. He couldn't stop using.

Then in October, Jolly was arrested again with more than 400 grams of codeine.

"Once you get addicted to it, it's like your in the mind set where you don't feel like you're going to get caught, or you don't feel like you're going to get in trouble, and that's just the drug talking to you," Jolly said.

Studies have shown why it's highly addictive -- you're actually getting three substances in one.

"The first thing you're getting is alcohol, which is a depressant. And then you're getting Promethazine, and then the Promethazine is an antihistamine," said Dr. Ron Peters, a professor of behavioral sciences at the UTHealth Center. "And of course if you've ever taken antihistamine, you get drowsy. And with that you have an opiate with codeine."

It's a drug that's often under the radar and that some fear could be a problem in the NFL. Jolly is not aware of other players using, but has a warning.

"They should take a closer look, because for me, I wouldn't want another guy to have to go through what I'm going through all because of drank," he said.

Jolly has gone through rehab and is in group therapy while in prison. At 28 years old, he does feel he can still contribute to an NFL team.

His attorney is looking at the possibility of getting his him out on parole well before his six years.