High School Athletes and Prescription Painkiller Misuse

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With every football tackle, volleyball dive and wrestling flip there’s the possibility that a teen athlete might be injured. In fact, 2 million U.S. high school teens suffer injuries each year. Once students enter high school, athletics become much more competitive. Rather than just sit out until the injury heals, many teens are being prescribed opioids to control their pain.

For some, care and rest combined with medication is necessary, but others end up relying too much on painkillers. Those teens soon become at risk for medication misuse and abuse, according to a study recorded in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Prescribing Painkillers to Teens

It’s usually the elderly that are thought to be most likely to be on prescription medication. However, teens are increasingly getting prescriptions for powerful medications to treat depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or sports-related injuries.

Almost 7.5 million American teens play sports during their high school years. Philip Veliz, Ph.D., of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan, led a study that examined opioid medication use by female and male high school athletes. Of the 1,540 athletes involved in the study, he noticed that male athletes were more at risk for opioid misuse than female athletes and non-athlete males.

Greater Risk of Opioid Misuse for Boys

Researchers believe that opioid abuse is worse with males because of the masculine image of “staying tough” after a painful injury. Also, predominantly male sports like football and wrestling can cause multiple painful injuries as the body is repeatedly hit, twisted, flattened and crunched.

Injured athletes also don’t want to let their team down. They see pain medicine as letting them push themselves harder, taking more and more to keep going.

Preventing Painkiller Misuse

As teen athletes try to keep their pain away, they may form a dangerous habit of popping pain pills too casually. In order to prevent this, doctors suggest that parents talk with their teens about the dangers of misusing medication. Physicians also need to check the patient’s history of painkiller use before they prescribe them more.

Dr. Daniel Green, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery, suggests that legislation could help doctors better monitor a patient’s prescription painkiller use. He says that doctors in New York are required to check a pharmacy database before prescribing their patient narcotics. This will ensure that teens are not taking those painkillers for an extended period of time. Dr. Green also suggests that doctors use non-opioid alternatives when possible.

With proper guidance from parents, doctors and coaches, student athletes can find proper pain relief without becoming dependent.

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