Saturday, January 29, 2011

Painkiller Misuse in the National Football League and its Future Consequences

Football enthusiasts are gearing up for the National Football League’s (NFL’s) Pro Bowl this weekend, an exhibition game that will tide fans over until next week’s big event, Super Bowl XLV.  In the meantime, many fans have been reading a report on about prescription painkiller abuse in the NFL entitled “Painkiller misuse numbs NFL pain”.

The report, which was sponsored by ESPN and supported by funding from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), includes segments on painkiller misuse by current and former NFL players, painkiller use in today’s NFL, how concussions may impact drug use, and additional resources.

ESPN’s segment on painkiller misuse is based on a new study just published online in CPDD’s journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence, which was conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis and ESPN in Connecticut.

The study reported that more than half of the 644 former NFL players who participated in a phone survey admitted using prescription opioid analgesics during their careers and more than 70% of those players had misused them.

The study also concluded that former NFL players currently use painkillers 3 times more frequently than men of the same age range in the general population, and that painkiller misuse during NFL careers was associated with future painkiller misuse during retirement.  Pain and undiagnosed concussions during playing careers and current alcohol use also predicted current painkiller misuse.

Linda Cottler, lead author on the report commented that “This study shows the need to monitor players both in the NFL and those who are retired.  It also highlights a need to monitor and assist elite athletes all over the world as well as collegiate players.”

The NFL study findings are consistent with a link that has been established in the general population between initial opioid analgesic misuse and later dependence: in a report presented at the 2010 CPDD Annual Meeting, Adelaja and colleagues at Michigan State University revealed that more than 3% of people who misused prescription opioids developed some features of dependence within 2 years after initial use (Click on hotlink to CPDD 2010 Abstract Book PDF, page 2, abstract #5 at

In a separate study published this week, the NFL players association (NFLPA) reported that injuries actually increased during NFL 2010 season games versus in 2002-2009, averaging 3.7 per week per team (versus 3.2 per week per team in prior years), with 63% of players injured at least once (versus 59% of players injured at least once in prior years).

Thus, pain levels for NFL players appear to be on the rise, as may be problems they may experience during and after their careers with pain medications.

Sport injuries at the high school level also are common, particularly in contact sports, as is pain medication misuse, which is higher among those of high school age than in older adults.  This suggests that a convergence between sports participation and pain medication misuse also may exist in this age-group.

These reports will be of interest not only to football fans and other sports enthusiasts but also to those studying and treating prescription medication abuse, which according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is the fastest growing drug problem we face.

CPDDBLOG welcomes CPDD member’s thoughts on this issue.

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