Oct 7, 2015
Prescription Painkillers a Gateway Drug for Athletes?

It’s not uncommon for doctors to prescribe painkillers to injured athletes, but are these drugs over-prescribed? Are opioid painkillers, in particular, a dangerous gateway to more serious illegal drug use?

“You go back 20 years ago and doctors were not giving out opioids to teens with sports injuries,” Dr. Andrew Kolodny, chief medical officer at New York City-based Phoenix House and president of Physicians for Responsible Opioid Prescribing, told lohud.com. “It was rare they’d be given one or two Percocet or a Vicodin. Now, with an injury or getting wisdom teeth out, they’re given 30 to 40 tablets. They’re essentially heroin pills.”

Putnam (N.Y.) County Judge James Reitz is head of Putnam’s Treatment Court, where people convicted of drug possession can undergo structured treatment rather than serve time in prison. He says he’s seen that those “heroin pills” can lead to real heroin use.

“After people run out of prescriptions or money they go to heroin because it’s so cheap,” Reitz said. “We have a lot of (heroin) cases in our court and a couple have been athletes, even one Major League (Baseball) contender. This guy missed out on a lot of opportunities.”

The issue may be on the radar at the professional and college levels, with some high profile lawsuits like the one filed against the National Hockey League after former New York Ranger Derek Boogaard died from a combination of Oxycodone and alcohol. But at the high school level, lohud.com reports that there doesn’t seem to be much discussion of prevention strategies. David Gerber, head of counseling services at St. Christopher’s Inn, a rehabilitation facility in Garrison, N.Y., suggests that the reason high school athletic associations are not talking about it may be because students who become addicted don’t stay in athletics for very long.

“I’ve heard people say, ‘I was a star athlete and was expected to be out on the field. I expected to be out on the field and I was in line for a scholarship.’ They’re ‘using’ as a way to stay on the field,” said Gerber. “The problem is, once the season is over, they’re still using. We see a lot who don’t go back to playing the next year. Use has become the center part of their lives. All of a sudden, football is not as important anymore.”


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