Pain, Injuries leave NFL Retirees Battling OxyContin and Other Painkiller Addictions

Pain, Injuries leave NFL Retirees Battling OxyContin and Other Painkiller Addictions

A new study reports that the use of opioid painkillers amongst former NFL players is on the rise. Financially, there is a lot riding on sporting events, and one injury can ruin a person’s career. Even in the midst of dealing with serious injuries, professional athletes are feeling the pressure to perform.

Drugs from the opiod family can be extremely addictive and difficult to quit. Similar to other drugs, they also produce a “high,” which is one of the reasons they are often abused. In fact, OxyContin in said to be the legal prescription version of the street drug heroin. Like street drugs, athletes can build up a tolerance, leaving them wanting more to produce the desired effect.

Opiod pain medications work by binding opioid receptors in the nervous system and GI tract. Essentially they interfere with the body’s ability to read and perceive pain. Those in the professional sports industry start taking opiods because of sports related injuries and years of physical impact. These medications also allow players to continue playing through pain as the pain signals are blocked from ever reaching the brain. Among the most commonly prescribed opiod painkillers are Oxycodone (branded as OxyContin), Vicodin, codeine and morphine.

Not surprisingly former NFL players are among some of the highest users of opiod pain medications. In fact, a study conducted by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri reports that these individuals are four times as likely to use opiod painkillers as everyone else. Once the game is over, these athletes are left to deal with the repercussions of playing through sustained injuries. Approximately 70 percent of those surveyed said they used the drugs to cope with moderate to severe pain.

Researchers surveyed 667 former NFL players about their current and past use of prescription drugs for pain management. What they found was that over 50 percent of retirees used the drugs while on the field, and 71 percent admitted to abusing them. About fifteen percent of those who misused the drugs while playing continued to abuse them after retirement.

Perhaps most telling is the fact that most of the players reported getting the drugs from someone other than a doctor. While 37 percent of those surveyed received their medications solely from a physician, 67 percent claimed they got them from someone else. This surprising statistic helps explain why the medications are misused.

Linda Cottler, lead researcher on the study, says that when it comes to pain management and addiction, players are being left to fend for themselves. She advocates finding other ways of helping players cope with pain other than prescription drug use. Other experts recommend that the NFL start aggressive drug testing. NFL players and retirees say that, instead of prescription drug use, the NFL has traditionally focused on drugs that enhance performance such as steroids.

The study also found that significant pain, undiagnosed concussions and excessive drinking were directly related to the abuse of painkillers. Cottler says that NFL players need to be more closely monitored throughout their career and beyond to assist with prevention and maintenance. For the sake of our beloved athletes, other alternatives to pain management need to be explored so that they aren’t left struggling with addictions long after the game is over.


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