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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Matthew Perry Talks About Opiate Addiction At CGIU 2013

Kaysie Ellingson |
April 7, 2013 | 8:59 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Matthew Perry (Kaysie Ellingson / Neon Tommy)
Matthew Perry (Kaysie Ellingson / Neon Tommy)

At the peak of his acting career, Matthew Perry, known as Chandler Bing from the beloved television series Friends, was so numbed by the numerous painkillers he was on that he could not even enjoy his success.

“I was so hooked on opiates,” he explained, “that I couldn’t even leave my bedroom.” Packed in a crowded classroom for a special Q&A session during the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference, Perry shared his struggle with addiction to pills and alcohol.

He captivated the room with his quirky sense of humor, maintaining the spastic charisma that made people fall in love with the character of Chandler. As he shared his struggles he squeezed in punchy jokes that made the room erupt in laughter at some of the most inappropriate moments, but reminded everyone of the power of humor in the darkest of situations. After each statement he made eager attendees and fans burst out in cheers.

Before seeking treatment Perry would never have agreed to speak out at an event like this one. However, now all of that has changed and through his sobriety he has found a new passion: living for others.

Over the years studies have shown that the rates of death caused by accidental overdoses have risen. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention these rates have nearly tripled since the 1990s and are at an all-time high.

The loss of a few big names in Hollywood has highlighted the issue even more for the general public. Between the sudden death of Heath Ledger in 2008 and the loss of Michael Jackson the following year, the severity of these addictions is nationally recognized.

Now policy makers, health experts and those who are dependent on prescription drugs for quality of life are joining the conversation regarding what the best solution is.

After several near-death experiences, Perry faced the demons of his addiction. “I realized that if I stepped outside of myself and lived for others I’d be happy,” he said. He explained that his journey to recovery was a difficult and very public one, joking that the only times he made it to the cover of People Magazine was when he entered rehab.

One of the largest issues surrounding prescription drug addiction is the role of the prescriber. Should opiates even be prescribed anymore with these high numbers of addictions resulting in deaths?

Perry shared his perspective on their role saying, “I think we need to educate our doctors about addiction.” He explained that doctors should be made aware of the addictive qualities of the medications that they are prescribing and consider that when giving them to a patient.

Other sources argue that opiates need to be eliminated completely from the pharmacy shelves, but people who suffer from chronic pain say that their quality of life would be significantly decreased, almost unbearable.

Today Perry stands as a major advocate for drug courts. He recently joined the National Association of Drug Court Professionals and now puts his energy towards helping to get funding from the government, recently lobbying to raise $86 million for the cause.

He was invited to speak at this year’s CGIU to share his triumphs and his work in the field of addiction recovery. Perry along with Earl Hightower, interventionist and AA prospect trapper, shared that drug courts are a form of justice intervention that place an individual in a rehab center rather than prison.

This system provides an addict with intense treatment and other services that help them get sober and stay sober. Those who are ordered to take part in drug court are tested for drugs regularly to ensure that they stay clean and are obligated to appear before a judge to review their progress.   

This is a two-year program, which helps participants bridge the gap between treatment and recovery that is often neglected, resulting in relapse. The length and structure of the program is something that has Perry convinced that this is one of the best formulas for recovery currently offered.

As Perry bounced from question to question, reminiscing on his acting career and talking about the severity of drug addiction and alcoholism, he made an interesting remark. “Nothing compares to the joy I feel standing here and talking with you about this,” he said. Even at the highest point in his fame, Perry’s fulfillment comes from living his life to help people overcome their drug addiction. 


Reach staff reporter Kaysie Ellingson here.



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