Jul 29, 2016
Athletes at Lower Risk

A new study, published in the Pediatrics on July 25, reports that teenage athletes are less likely to abuse painkillers than non-athletes, contrary to what prior research has found. 

According to Winona Daily News, the study involved University of Michigan researchers looking through data from 192,000 8th to 10th graders from 1997 to 2014. The study reported an increase in both opioid prescriptions and drug abuse, as well as the number of opioid deaths quadrupling, but also found that participating in sports and exercise served to reduce the risk of painkiller abuse.

Among those who participated in sports every day, 9 percent used opioids for non-medical purposes and 2 percent used heroin in 1997, and this rate decreased to less than 5 percent and 1 percent, respectively, in 2014. The study also reported that even those who exercised less than once per week were less likely to abuse opioids.

Philip Veliz, who co-authored the report, said that anecdotal evidence reports that teens who are prescribed opioids may become addicted to them, and eventually move on to heroin, but no studies have proven that abusing prescribed painkillers would lead to heroin abuse. He said that the study suggested that some sports teams promoted “positive social connections” that made teens less likely to abuse drugs, but that in football, where serious injuries are more common than other sports, athletes may be more likely to abuse painkillers.

Veliz also suggested that the spread of awareness among adults and teens led to a decline in painkiller abuse, and that more media coverage of and public service messages about opioids helped.

“Maybe this is a sign that people are being more vigilant,” Veliz said.

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