Action on Opioids

July 23, 2018

With the opioid crisis in America deepening, those in athletics may wonder if they have a role to play in prevention efforts. The Tempe (Ariz.) Union High School District is testing out one possibility.

Beginning in the 2018-19 academic year, each of its seven high school athletic departments will follow an Opioid Action Plan. “The idea is to monitor athletes who have been prescribed opioids,” says Anna Battle, EdD, former Assistant Superintendent of Operations and District Athletic Director. “There is also an educational component to ensure there is understanding of the challenges with opioid use and how to be preventative.”

Prior to the start of each season, all athletes and their parents/guardians will be required to review an opioid-awareness slideshow, which will be presented by the school’s athletic trainers, athletic directors, and coaches. Included will be information on how addiction occurs, warning signs of over-usage, and guidelines on properly disposing of the medication.

Afterwards, the athletes and their parents/guardians will be required to pass a brief “opioid quiz,” which will cover topics from the presentation that are deemed most important, such as being able to identify the symptoms of opioid abuse. This process is similar to what Tempe Union uses for concussion education.

Whenever an athlete is prescribed opioids, the new protocol requires a chain of communication involving the treating physician, the district’s team physician, the school’s athletic trainer, the school’s athletic director, and the player’s coach. “Our district team physician, who oversees our certified athletic trainers and helped to develop this plan, will be in contact with the treating physician about what has been prescribed,” says Dr. Battle. “As long as a student is still under prescription for this type of medication, they will not be permitted to participate in their sport. However, the coach will develop strategies to keep the student-athlete connected to the program to maintain relationships and support from peers—which is very important.”

The students will be closely monitored by the coach, athletic trainer, and physicians for any behaviors indicating an opioid overuse or addiction. Coaches and athletic directors will be trained in recognizing these signs, which can include sudden mood swings, withdrawal from social activities, trouble staying awake, impulsive actions, and depression.

If the student displays symptoms of overuse or is believed to be using the narcotic beyond the prescribed time frame, appropriate interventions will be executed. These next steps will involve additional adults, including the school nurse, guidance counselor, and teachers, as approved by the student’s parents.

“In these cases, there will be an ongoing discussion between the team physician and treating physician to determine whether there are alternatives to the drug the child is currently using and if any further action needs to be taken,” says Dr. Battle. “We will do everything we can to ensure the child is able to participate in a healthy way after making a full recovery.”

While still in its early stages, the program is already generating interest from athletic departments nationwide. “They can certainly use our plan if they would like,” Dr. Battle says. “It’s about keeping kids safe, so it’s our pleasure to put in the work right now and report the results as we continue to improve our efforts.”

This article appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Training & Conditioning.

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