"It's so addictive": NRL legend Matt Cooper's near-death experience with painkiller addiction

Hundreds of Australians die every year and thousands more are hopelessly addicted. It's not ice or heroin, it's prescription drugs. Super-strong, legal, painkillers, like opioids.

They’re what killed movie star Heath Ledger and almost destroyed rugby league hero Matt Cooper.

Matt had it all. A loving family, a luxurious home and a place in Australian sporting folklore, but he was secretly addicted to painkillers.

"I went from one tablet, to two tablets, to three tablets, to four a day, then it just kept going on and on," he said.

Like many professional athletes, Matt used prescription drugs to numb the pain of his injuries, but his addiction to Oxycodeine actually began after he retired.

"It just grabs you and the thing is, that it's so addictive."

"Your endorphins just rise and it just gives you such a good feeling."

Like most addicts, Matt went to great lengths to keep his addiction a secret.

"I was taking seven in the morning, seven at lunch time, seven at dinner, seven when I was going to bed."

Addiction specialist Dr Mark Hardy is seeing more patients than ever hooked on painkillers.

"When you look at people who are addicted to pharmaceutical Opioids, they've often never injected a drug in their life," he said.

"They're either working or they're at home looking after a family."

Everyday people, football stars … famous actors, the devastation wrought by addiction to prescription drugs is indiscriminate.

On a cold New York night in 2008, the world lost emerging Hollywood giant Heath Ledger.

The twenty-eight-year-old had taken a lethal combination of Opioid painkillers, antibiotics and sleeping pills.

Heath's father, Kim Ledger, is hoping that highlighting his son's tragic death can bring about tighter controls on prescription drugs.

"So many thousands of families, right across Australia are affected by this."

"We lose two plane loads of people a year to misuse of prescription drugs, more than four hundred and fifty people."

Matt is convinced that he was hours away from suffering the same fate as Heath Ledger.

A quiet, lonely and completely avoidable death.

"It can happen to anyone, anyone, doesn't matter who you are."

The father-of-two recalls the lowest moment of his life, the night he took an overdose of prescription drugs.

"I was just sitting there thinking: 'How can I do this to my two girls’?"

Matt's wife, Dallas, could see there was a problem, but put it down to the neck pain and his struggle to adapt to life after footy.

"Okay, he might be taking a little bit too much, but the guy is obviously in pain."

"It wasn't until weeks later, that I kind of lay there thinking, I could have woken up and had a dead husband next to me."

As Matt's life slowly returns to normal, he has two simple words of advice for anyone going through what he went through: tell someone.

"Just tell one person, it could change your life," he said.

"I told my wife, she saved my life."