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July 17, 2019

Sports Illustrated story details Roy Halladay's struggle with drug addiction

The former Phillies pitcher and incoming Hall of Famer went to rehab after retirement

Roy Halladay will be posthumously inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday, less than two years after the legendary former Phillies pitcher died in a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ahead of the induction ceremony, a long Sports Illustrated story published Wednesday sheds new light on Halladay's relationship with aviation — his father is a commercial pilot — and his battle with drug addiction after his retirement, including the role that may have played in Halladay's death.

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The story intersperses memories Halladay shared with his father, Roy Jr., in the cockpit of various airplanes, including his first time logging hours as a student when he was 2 years old, and the time his father wouldn't let him fly alone at age 17, despite nearly 200 hours of experience.

The story also details Halladay's struggle with fame and restlessness, and fleshes out what we know about Halladay's relationship with drugs after he retired from baseball.

Halladay died Nov. 7, 2017, when the two-seater plane he was flying crashed into the Gulf of Mexico. The toxicology report from January 2018 noted Halladay had amphetamines in his system when he died – and potentially enough of the drug to produce an overdose.

According to the article, Halladay's problems with drug addiction dated back at least two years before the crash:

"In April 2015, Little Roy was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame. Heather noticed a change in her brother: He seemed sweaty, dry-mouthed, lethargic. She asked Big Roy if he had noticed a problem. He told her the truth: Little Roy was addicted to lorazepam, an anti-anxiety drug often marketed under the brand name Ativan. He had been prescribed it, but eventually began abusing it. He had been to rehab, but he had relapsed. It was a “really dark period,” Big Roy says now.

"Heather did not say anything to Little Roy. She knew how desperately he wanted to impress everyone in his life. But the August before he died, she and her family went to Disney World with him. Little Roy held the bags and waited as everyone else had fun; his back hurt too much for him to sit on any of the rides. Heather noted how careful he was not to mix up his painkillers. At one point he even declined an aspirin for a headache. Finally he confided in her: Addiction was “a wicked thing,” he said. He encouraged her never to accept a prescription for lorazepam. He had been back to rehab. They had given him a journal there. It seemed to be helping."

From what we can tell, the addiction and drug rehabilitation details seem to be new additions to Halladay's story. Lorazepam wasn't found in Halladay's system when he died, according to the story, but benzodiazepines (a class of drug that includes lorazepam) have been linked to untimely deaths for a number of celebrities, including actor Heath Ledger and singer Chris Cornell.

A potential connection between lorazepam and suicidal ideation has been examined in multiple studies, according to the British Journal of General Practice, with one study in Canada finding a "significant association" between suicide attempts and benzodiazepine usage.

The story points out the possible connection, but doesn't outright make the assertion that Halladay committed suicide. Halladay's father admits late in the story that he simply doesn't know if his son committed suicide, and has decided he's "not going to investigate it anymore."

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