Does the NFL Push Painkillers on Football Players?

Unveiling the truth: Does the NFL push painkillers on football players? Explore usage statistics, health implications, and league initiatives.

June 10, 2024

NFL and Prescription Painkillers

The use and potential misuse of prescription painkillers among NFL players has been a subject of concern and scrutiny. Let's take a closer look at the usage statistics and the issue of misuse among retired players.

Usage Statistics

According to a survey conducted by ESPN, 52 percent of retired NFL players reported using prescription pain medication during their playing days. Out of those players, a staggering 71 percent admitted to misusing these drugs at some point during their careers. Furthermore, 15 percent of the misusers acknowledged misusing the medication within the past 30 days.

Misuse Among Retired Players

The same ESPN survey revealed that a significant number of retired players obtained prescription pain pills from nonmedical sources. Approximately 63 percent of those who used prescription pain pills while playing obtained the medications from teammates, coaches, trainers, family members, dealers, or even the Internet. This highlights the potential risk for misuse and the need for greater oversight and education within the NFL [1].

In terms of recent misuse, 7 percent of the retired players surveyed admitted to using more prescription pain medication than prescribed by their doctors, using the medication without a prescription, or both within the past 30 days [1].

These statistics shed light on the prevalence of prescription painkiller use and misuse among NFL players, highlighting the need for effective strategies to address this issue. The potential consequences of misuse, both during and after players' careers, underscore the importance of player health and safety in the NFL.

Sources of Prescription Pain Medication

When it comes to prescription pain medication usage in the NFL, there are various sources from which players obtain these medications. It is important to examine the nonmedical channels through which players acquire prescription pain medication and understand the risk factors associated with misuse.

Nonmedical Channels

According to a report by ESPN, a significant number of retired players who used prescription pain pills during their playing careers obtained these medications from nonmedical sources. These sources included teammates, coaches, trainers, family members, drug dealers, and even the Internet. This practice of acquiring pain medications from avenues other than team doctors raises concerns about the proper oversight and control of these substances.

Offensive or defensive linemen were particularly prone to obtaining pain medications through channels other than team doctors. This practice was more common among these players, possibly due to the physical demands and high level of contact associated with their positions. The accessibility and availability of pain medications from nonmedical sources may contribute to the misuse and potential abuse of these substances.

Risk Factors for Misuse

Several factors contribute to the misuse of prescription pain medication among NFL players. A study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found that former players who reported prior opioid use in the NFL to reduce stress or anxiety had increased odds of misusing prescription opioids in retirement. This suggests a potential link between opioid use during a player's career and subsequent misuse after retirement.

Furthermore, the same study revealed that among retired NFL players who had been exposed to prescribed pain medication during their playing careers, 26.2% reported recent use of prescription opioids within the past 30 days. Of those players who used opioids, 14.3% reported using them only as prescribed, while 11.9% reported misuse, which includes use that is not prescribed or use other than as prescribed. The study also found that former players who used prescription opioids during their careers and continued to use them in retirement were more likely to concurrently use prescription sedatives. This combination of medications increases the risk of overdose.

Understanding the nonmedical sources of prescription pain medication and the risk factors associated with misuse is crucial in addressing the issue of painkiller usage in professional football. By addressing the accessibility of these medications and implementing appropriate protocols, the NFL can work towards promoting the health and well-being of its players.

Health Implications

Prescription painkiller use in the NFL has raised concerns about the health implications for football players, particularly the impact on pain levels and the potential link to undiagnosed concussions.

Pain Levels Among Retired Players

Research conducted on former NFL players has revealed high levels of pain experienced after retirement. In a survey conducted by ESPN, it was found that 93 percent of retired players suffered from some level of pain, with 73 percent describing their pain as moderate to severe. These findings highlight the significant burden of pain that retired players face as a result of their football careers.

Link to Undiagnosed Concussions

There is evidence to suggest a correlation between the misuse of prescription painkillers and undiagnosed concussions among retired NFL players. According to the aforementioned ESPN survey, 98 percent of retired players who admitted to misusing prescription painkillers within the past 30 days reported suffering from undiagnosed concussions. In comparison, 79 percent of players who did not currently use prescription pain medication reported suffering from undiagnosed concussions.

This correlation raises concerns about the potential role of painkillers in masking the symptoms of concussions, leading to a lack of proper diagnosis and treatment. It is crucial for players, medical professionals, and the NFL to address this issue to ensure the long-term health and well-being of the athletes.

The health implications of prescription painkiller use in the NFL extend beyond pain levels and concussions. Further research is necessary to fully understand the impact of painkiller misuse on the overall health and quality of life of football players. By recognizing these implications, efforts can be made to prioritize player safety and implement appropriate measures to address pain management in a responsible and effective manner.

NFL Initiatives for Player Safety

The NFL has taken several initiatives to prioritize player safety and address concerns regarding pain management and prescription medications. Two key initiatives are the Joint Pain Management Committee and the role of the Chief Medical Officer (CMO).

Joint Pain Management Committee

The Joint Pain Management Committee, established by the NFL, plays a vital role in setting standards for pain management and the use of prescription medications by NFL players. The committee works to establish uniform standards for club practices and policies in this area.

One of the primary focuses of the committee is educating players and personnel on best clinical practices in pain management. By providing guidance and setting standards, the committee aims to ensure that NFL players receive appropriate care while minimizing the risks associated with the use of prescription medications.

Additionally, the committee has been actively involved in research efforts. In February 2022, they awarded $1 million in research funding to study the effects of cannabis and CBD on the performance and pain management of elite athletes. In June 2023, an additional $526,525 was awarded to investigate the effects of cannabidiol (CBD) and non-invasive vagal nerve stimulation (nVNS) on alleviating concussion symptoms.

Role of Chief Medical Officer

Dr. Allen Sills, the NFL's Chief Medical Officer (CMO), plays a crucial role in advancing player safety in the league. As the CMO, Dr. Sills has led the league's efforts to protect players from unnecessary risks by implementing rule changes, evolving equipment, and developing comprehensive injury reduction plans.

Dr. Sills coordinates with medical experts to ensure player safety both on and off the field, including during the COVID-19 pandemic. He works with various medical committees and experts to develop player safety protocols that meet or exceed state and local orders, prioritizing the well-being of NFL players.

In addition to his role as the CMO, Dr. Sills is an active researcher in the field of sports concussion. He has published numerous scientific articles and presentations, particularly on the topic of sports concussion. Dr. Sills is a member of the Concussion in Sport Group, which publishes international standards regarding concussion in sport.

The involvement of the Joint Pain Management Committee and the leadership of the Chief Medical Officer demonstrate the NFL's commitment to player safety and the continuous improvement of pain management practices within the league. These initiatives aim to ensure that players receive appropriate care while minimizing the potential risks associated with pain medications.

Research Studies on Opioid Use

To gain a better understanding of the prevalence of opioid use among retired NFL players, several research studies have been conducted. These studies shed light on the rates of opioid use in this population and compare them to the general population.

Rates in Retired NFL Players

According to a study published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), rates of recent prescription opioid misuse among retired NFL players are comparable to rates among military veterans and far surpass rates in the general population. The study found that among retired NFL players with exposure to prescribed pain medication during their playing career, 26.2% reported recent use of prescription opioids within the past 30 days. However, it is important to note that the majority of retired players (73.8%) reported no use of prescription opioids.

Of the retired players who reported using opioids, 14.3% stated that they used them only as prescribed, while 11.9% reported misuse, including use that is not prescribed or use other than as prescribed. It is worth mentioning that former NFL players who used prescription opioids during their playing career and continued to use them in retirement were more likely to report concurrent use of prescription sedatives. This combination of medications increases the risk of overdose.

Comparison to General Population

The same study revealed that rates of recent prescription opioid misuse among retired NFL players far surpass rates in the general population. Approximately 7% of retired NFL players reported recent misuse of prescription opioids, which is significantly higher than the general population rate of 1.6%. This indicates a significant concern for this population, highlighting the potential risks associated with opioid use in the NFL and subsequent misuse in retirement.

The NFL's reported rate of opioid use, which stands at 7%, is three times higher than that of the general population. It is important to note that opioid misuse among retired NFL players is more than four times higher than among their peers. Even after retirement, 15% of players who misused opioids during their careers continued to do so.

These research studies highlight the concerning rates of opioid use and misuse among retired NFL players, emphasizing the need for further awareness, education, and support to address this issue.

League Regulations and Compliance

To address concerns related to painkiller misuse among players, the NFL has implemented various regulations and compliance measures. These efforts aim to ensure the responsible use of prescription pain medications and promote player safety.

Drug Testing and Monitoring

Drug testing is an integral part of the NFL's approach to regulating the use of painkillers and other substances. The league conducts rigorous drug testing programs to monitor and deter the misuse of prescription medications. Players are subject to random testing throughout the year, and strict penalties are imposed on those found in violation of the league's substance abuse policy.

In addition to drug testing, the NFL closely monitors teams for the prescription and administration of analgesics. This monitoring helps prevent the misuse or overuse of painkillers and ensures compliance with prescription drug laws. The league and team physicians work together to adhere to regulations regarding the storage and safe handling of prescription pain medications, as monitored by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

External Advisory Committees

To further enhance compliance and address issues related to prescription drug use and abuse, the NFL has established external advisory committees consisting of experts in drug use and abuse. These committees provide valuable insights and recommendations to the league regarding the prevention and response to prescription drug misuse.

The involvement of external experts ensures that the NFL's policies and programs align with current best practices and evolving medical knowledge. By seeking guidance from professionals experienced in drug use and abuse, the league can make informed decisions and continually improve its approach to painkiller management.

By implementing these regulations and compliance measures, the NFL aims to promote player safety and prevent the misuse of prescription painkillers among its athletes. The league recognizes the importance of responsible medication practices and is committed to addressing concerns related to painkiller use in a comprehensive manner.

References

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