When Necessity Turns into a Serious Habit
No one can deny that professional athletes put their health on the line every time they suit up to entertain us. But injuries on the field can cause chronic pain and a legitimate need to take prescription painkillers. If these injuries aren’t addressed and don’t have time to heal, they can progress to the point where painkillers are needed every day. Prescription opiates are often used to treat moderate to serious pain but can be habit-forming when taken for prolonged periods. The sad part is that sports-related injuries can cost professional athletes their jobs and their livelihoods. Some athletes, including the Minnesota Vikings’ Brett Favre, have chosen to continue playing after an injury but ultimately paid the price. During the 1990s when he played for the Green Bay Packers, Favre admitted to a prescription painkiller addiction that began after an injury threatened to sideline his career. He worked through it and went on to play many more seasons after doctors told him he suffered a serious seizure that likely stemmed from his painkiller abuse.
Favre’s story made the national news but there are countless other athletes who may be using these drugs but flying under the radar. The NFL currently tests players for substances of abuse (not including steroids) only during the offseason. The National Basketball Association and National Hockey League have a somewhat stricter set of rules. Their players can be tested during the regular season. Major League Baseball players aren’t tested for many substances of abuse without reasonable cause. For the most part, these guidelines have been worked out through the players’ unions and the NFL has said it’s doing what it has to in order to honor those contracts. Some officials have acknowledged that prescription painkiller abuse in the NFL is an issue, but say it’s indicative of a bigger problem that affects the broader population.
Statistics from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration show that this may be true. From 1998 to 2008, the agency reported a serious increase in painkiller abuse among nearly all segments of society “regardless of age, gender, educational level and employment status.” These medications are so easily accessible nowadays that these statistics shouldn’t surprise anyone. Some doctors overprescribe painkillers. They can be purchased on the streets of just about any community. Drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet and Dilaudid are readily available online. There are plenty of shady websites out there offering potentially addicting prescription drugs without requiring a prescription. Professional sports, injuries and chronic pain go hand in hand. An athlete on pain medication for an injury can be numb to the point that more injuries are likely. Long-term use can lead to a lifetime of problems. The issue is not likely to be remedied anytime soon without action from Congress and more stringent testing by professional sports organizations.