Nov 2, 2017
Halting Opioid Abuse

The link between suffering an injury as a high school athlete and subsequent opioid addiction is problematic. In New Jersey, a new initiative aims to highlight this relationship and take steps to change it.

The Stop Opioid Abuse Program (SOAP) is being implemented by the New Jersey Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) and the Garden State Pharmacy Owners (GSPO). Its focus is on distributing student-focused printed and online materials pertaining to opioid misuse and abuse to high schools across the state. From there, the schools will decide how to distribute the information among their athletic trainers, coaches, and student-athletes. The Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey (PDFNJ) is also providing some of the materials. 

“With the misuse of opioids becoming an increasingly serious problem among high school students … SOAP provides an excellent opportunity to deliver critical, life-saving information to student-athletes, parents, coaches, and [athletic] trainers,” Angelo Valente, PDFNJ Director, told “The [PDFNJ] lauds the leadership of the GSPO and NJSIAA in initiating outreach to students potentially more vulnerable to opioid misuse.”  

The trigger for a student-athlete getting hooked on opioids is often a prescription following a sports-related injury. Research has shown that opiates may change brain chemistry very quickly—even in less than a week.

“We have a statistic that shows that male athletes are twice as likely as non-athletes to become addicted to opiates and heroin,” Valente told “Children prescribed opiates before the age of 18 are 33 percent more likely to get hooked.”

In addition to SOAP, the PDFNJ is looking at other ways to curb opiate use among high school athletes. One option has been looking at the way injuries are treated. Rather than prescribing an opiate, Valente suggests considering Tylenol or physical therapy.

“Unless there is pain that [is] unbearable and [there’s] no other way to remedy it, you should always opt out [of opiates] for a child,” Valente told “If so, one or two days maximum.”

Recent laws requiring the dangers of opiates to be discussed with parents before they are prescribed has also shifted perceptions. Previously, both prescribers and patients weren’t always aware of how dangerous these medications could be for student-athletes.

“We want to focus on athletes and prescription drugs and get that out to people to maybe think twice before having their kids take a strong medication, because there’s a direct correlation to long-term prescription drug use and addiction,” Bob Williams, Athletic Director at Northern Highlands Regional High School in Allendale, N.J., told


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