Opioids are synthetic painkillers prescribed to treat pain that is usually chronic or severe as well as personal injuries. Some examples of opioids are prescription OxyContin, Vicodin, and heroin. A problem with this class of drugs is that they are highly addictive and prone to causing potentially deadly overdoses. As opioids are prescribed more and more frequently, an increasing amount of patients are becoming familiar with how addictive opioids can be. Many patients are able to stop taking their prescription at the right time but some become addicted and take to abuse, even after the underlying condition is no longer present. A few of these patients turn to heroin once they are no longer able to refill their prescription, and others fatally overdose either from heroin or counterfeit opioids.
Imagine that you incur a second condition or personal injury of some kind and are prescribed an opioid as a way to manage your pain again. Do you, knowing how powerful opioids can be, take the prescription again? Or do you suffer the symptoms of your condition rather than risking relapse. That is the daily struggle of millions of Americans suffering from chronic pain: get temporary relief at the cost of the condition potentially controlling you or live with your pain.
A Hidden Epidemic
More opioids are being prescribed for pain than ever before but most people aren’t aware of how dangerous they can be. Between 1999 and 2014, prescription opioid usage quadrupled along with opioid related-overdoses in the United States. In 2014, almost 2 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioids and six out of 10 drug overdose deaths involved an opioid. In 2012, 259 million prescriptions were written for opioids, enough at the time to give each adult their own bottle, and more opioids are being prescribed every day.
The typical prescription opioid abuser is a white woman in her 40s or older, although abuse is prevalent throughout most adult demographics. Cultural factors must be taken into account when looking into opioid use by area as there are nearly three times the amount of opioid patients in Midwestern and Southern states when compared to states in the Northeast or West.
Given how commonly opioids are prescribed, many former opioid patients have incurred some kind of second, painful condition, such as cancer, or had surgery, necessitating another opioid prescription since they’ve finished the first one and dealt with the initial condition. When faced with the option of taking a prescription painkiller again and rolling the dice on triggering a relapse or suffering the symptoms of their condition, many choose the latter.
Addicted to Sports
When you think about drugs and career athletes, steroids come to mind first, but the substances most commonly abused in professional sports are prescription opioids. In sports, opioids’ destructive powers are doubled. Athletes, from professionals to junior varsity, are rewarded by their bodies for engaging in strenuous physical activity. This takes the form of high amounts of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure sensations, being released in the brain. A similar chemical reaction can be observed when patients abuse substances such as alcohol or opioids. Due to the similarities between how the brain processes exercise and drugs, many athletes will turn to substance abuse following an injury in order to achieve a comparable high.
Prescription drug abuse has become a systemic problem among professional athletes due to this chemical relationship. Most of them are in the best shape of their lives so they’re always looking for something that will give them a competitive edge. Prescription opioids and stimulants are able to provide that, either reducing sensitivity to pain or increasing energy, but these benefits come with a downside. Taking prescriptions without having a medical need for them is known to result in an increased risk of substance abuse later in life as well as other mental health issues.
“Professional athletes are always looking for something that will give them a competitive edge.”
The two categories of prescription drugs most commonly abused by professional athletes are:
Vicodin: Prescribed for pain in general, associated with pain from injuries
OxyContin and Percocet: Used for moderate to severe pain over a long period of time
Adderall and Ritalin: Both substances are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, while these medications are also given to patients with depression, asthma, obesity, and some neurological conditions when other drugs have proven ineffective
Triggered by an injury or retirement, many athletes find themselves restless and unfulfilled, unable to adjust to life without an intense physical outlet. Since they no longer have a place on the field, many will turn to drug or alcohol abuse as a way to get back to that place. Retired NFL players abuse prescription opioids at a rate of more than four times that of the general population. Fifty-two percent of NFL retirees said that they took prescription opioids and 71 percent of them reported that they abused prescription drugs during their careers.
Addiction can come at the most unexpected times, as a result of years of intense competition or prescribed to you by a trusted doctor. The best way to protect yourself from substance abuse is to find healthy ways to get your kicks and take prescriptions as directed. If you or someone you know has a high risk for substance abuse due to an injury or retirement or is already abusing, Unity Behavioral Health can help. We are a comprehensive recovery center located in scenic North Palm Beach, FL, specializing in drug and alcohol dependence, mental illness, and dual diagnosis. Please give us a call today at 561-708-5295 to learn more.