Athletes and Prescription Drugs

  • Overuse and misuse of prescription medication opioids is a serious health risk for student-athletes. After marijuana and alcohol, the most commonly abused substances by Americans aged 14 and older are prescription medications. Prescription opioids are one of the main causes of overdose deaths in our country.

    Opioids are drugs that are derived from the opium poppy plant or are synthetic equivalents. Heroin is an illegal opioid, but many opioids are legal. These include a variety of pain medications routinely prescribed by doctors and include oxycodone or OxyContin®, hydrocodone or Vicodin®, diphenoxylate or Lomotil®, morphine or Kadian®, codeine, fentanyl or Duragesic®, propoxyphene or Darvon®, hydromorphone or Dilaudid®, meperidine or Demerol®, or methadone. All opioids have a similar effect on the brain: they reduce the intensity of pain signals reaching the brain and affect the brain areas controlling emotion and breathing.


    As the brain changes rapidly in adolescence, teenagers are more prone to risky, impulsive behavior such as drug misuse and abuse. People who misuse prescription opioids are at greater risk of becoming addicted to opioids than people who take them as prescribed by a doctor. The initial decision to take opioids may start off as a choice but can develop into dependency or addiction. 

    Tips for Injured Athletes:

    • Use prescribed medications in low doses and in limited quantities. Don't keep using medication if you're no longer in pain just because you have pills left over.
    • Rest and heal. Don't rush back into playing. You may be tempted to use prescription painkillers to get back out there, but setting a realistic time frame for recovery means you won't be tempted to misuse medication.   
    • Don't share your medications. You should be the only one taking it. A normal dose for you could be fatal for someone else.
    • Properly dispose of opioid medications. Getting rid of unused or expired medications greatly reduces the chance they'll be misused.
    • Prescription medications may not be the only option. Find out about alternative pain therapies for medications.
    • Keep them locked up: 28.4% of Rockwood students say it is 'very' or 'sort of easy' to get Rx drugs that have not been prescribed to them.

Risk Factors for Teen Prescription Drug Abuse

    • Having a prescription for opioids
    • Having "fair" or "poor" general health
    • Having one or more limitations on activities of daily living
    • Having a current depression diagnosis
    • Having an anxiety diagnosis
    • "Catastrophizing" current pain severity
    • Having an increased perception of pain negative effects (anxiety about pain)
    • Genetic factors, family history of drug abuse
    • School delinquency
    • The perception that prescription drugs are readily available
    • Perception that prescription drug misuse is acceptable and safe

Protective Factors for Teen Prescription Drug Abuse

    • Having a higher commitment to doing well in school
    • Having a lower prescribed supply of opioids 
    • Having a lower prescribed dosage of opioids
    • Having open communication with their parents about the risks of prescription drug abuse