Drug overdose is a major problem in the United States. Illicit and prescription drug abuse have plagued our country for years, and now, the statistics apply to professional athletes. In a recent survey of more than 150 NFL players, use of chemical opioids was extremely common and encouraged by some league physicians. The addiction qualities of opioid painkillers are basically a Russian Roulette for some pain sufferers, however.
Opioids are a class of drugs that include prescription pain relievers and heroin. These drugs act on the opioid receptors in the brain to produce a pleasurable effect along with pain relief. More than 20 million Americans had some type of substance use disorder in 2015, and opioid addiction is causing many overdose deaths. The opioid overdose death rate in 2008 was four times what it was in 1999, and there were 20,000 deaths due to prescription opioids in 2015 alone.
According to the 2017 survey involving current and former NFL players, 91% said they had taken an opiate-based pain reliever. In addition, almost half of those surveyed said they felt pressure by teammates, staff, and even team doctors to use a chemical substance for pain. Many players admitted to recreational use of opioids after they first took them by prescription.
Opioids are the fastest and strongest form of pain management available to NFL players. The NFL physicians can injection painkillers directly to the affected region for quick pain relief, which permits the player to go right back to the field. These opioids have a laundry list of side effects, however. They can cause dizziness, confusion, nausea, vomiting, and respiratory depression. In addition, they are extremely addictive, with 70% of NFL players reporting being concerned to an unhealthy dependence on the drugs.
In 2012, the NFL Players Association had an injury data analysis conducted. They found that there was an increase of 1,302 total injuries from 2010 to 2011. In 2011 alone, there were 4,493 minor injuries in the NFL, which included the start of training camp through the Super Bowl. In addition, there was a 17% increase in moderate injuries, which means the player was out of action for 8-21 days.
An Alternative Solution
The nation’s largest medical marijuana online marketplace, BudTrader.com, conducted a lengthy study regarding NFL players and opioid addiction potential. The study evolved after the marketplace’s CEO, Brad McLaughlin, was notified of the problem by former NFL player Marvin Washington. According to the report, Washington is an advocated for a safer form of pain management: use of medical marijuana. Washington believes professional football players could benefit from the unique compounds found in marijuana, which protect the brain against pain and inflammation.
According to the NFL survey, 89% of NFL players felt that medical marijuana was a safe alternative to treating injury pain. These players said that fewer chemical opioids would be used if they had access to medical marijuana. According to authorities, this would call for major policy reform within the league. The NFLPA plans to make medical cannabis a priority in the future, however.
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Alternet (2017). Recent Poll Shows NFL Players Are Increasingly Concerned About Opioid Use and Addiction. Retrieved from: http://www.alternet.org/drugs/nfl-players-are-increasingly-concerned-about-opioids
American Society of Addiction Medicine (2016). Opioid Addiction. Retrieved from: http://www.asam.org/docs/default-source/advocacy/opioid-addiction-disease-facts-figures.pdf