Policy on Painkillers

March 18, 2017

Based on new guidelines introduced by the Pennsylvania Orthopedic Society, if opioid medication is being considered for an athlete, he or she shouldn’t be able to return to play. This is especially emphasized with young and adolescent athletes.

“Opioids are very important medicines, but they can be overutilized,” Rachel Levine, physician general for Pennsylvania, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “There are too many people with minor injuries who are getting longer prescriptions for opioids. We have student-athletes who are getting longer prescriptions for opioids.”

Along with the recommendation to not be eligible to return to play if opioids are prescribed, the guidelines call for athletic programs to develop written policies for their use. The guidelines also incorporate non-opioid pain medicine, acupuncture, and exercise to treat pain. When used, opioids should be for short-term use to help with acute pain.

“It’s vital to distinguish between chronic and acute pain,” Patrick Smith, a spine surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Margaret and president of the Pennsylvania Orthopedic Society, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “Orthopedic patients suffer acute pain. Surgeons have been prescribers of opioid medicines. We have to do it in a way that provides relief but is safe. We want to do it at a more thoughtful and more thought-out way with more attention. The acute injury and what we’re talking about is putting expectations together as well as other medications that can help us treat these patients differently than we have in the past 20 years.”