Teen Athletes Might Be Using Opioids More Than Others

Opioid medication misuse was higher in adolescents who played organized sports

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Sports are a great way for teens to maintain physical and mental health. But teen athletes can get injured. Sometimes, those injuries are so painful that teens are prescribed opioid painkillers, which might introduce the opportunity for drug misuse.

A recent study found that teens who played team sports were at risk for opioid medication misuse.

Teens who participated in sports were more likely to get injured than those who did not play organized sports, and the teen athletes' doctors often prescribed opioid medications (narcotics) to relieve their pain.

But easy access to opioid medications by teen athletes may offer an opportunity for drug abuse, according to the authors of this study.

"Talk to your teen about proper use of prescription medications."

This recent study — which looked at whether sports participation among adolescents was associated with the use of opioid medications — was conducted by Philip Veliz, PhD, of the Institute for Research of Women and Gender from the University of Michigan, and colleagues.

According to Dr. Veliz, “We should expect that adolescents who participate in competitive sports at the interscholastic level are at a greater risk to get injured and, subsequently, be more likely to be prescribed opioids to manage pain.”

The study included a total of 1,540 adolescent students from schools in Michigan who filled out a survey for three consecutive school years during 2009 to 2012. Students were between 11 and 17 years old (average age 14) when they completed their first survey, between 12 and 18 when they filled out the second survey and between 13 and 19 during the last survey.

The following four questions were included in the surveys to assess the medical use, improper medical use (used too much or too often) and non-medical use of opioid medications:

  1. “On how many occasions in the past 12 months has a doctor, dentist, or nurse prescribed the following types of medicine for you?"
  2. "On how many occasions (if any) in the past 12 months have you used too much (e.g., higher doses, more frequent doses) of your prescribed medication?"
  3. "On how many occasions (if any) in the past 12 months have you intentionally gotten high with your prescribed medication or used it to increase other drug or alcohol effects?"
  4. "On how many occasions in the past 12 months have you used the following types of medicines not prescribed to you?"

Vicodin, OxyContin, Tylenol 3 with codeine, Percocet, Darvocet, morphine, hydrocodone and oxycodone were given as examples of opioid medications.

Participants also listed any sports team or club they belonged to.

On the accuracy of the answers provided by the students, Dr. Veliz commented to dailyRx News, “This study only included respondents who completed each wave of the survey (Three waves of the Secondary Student Life Survey). Usually, respondents who do not care for a survey will not take it at the second or third wave. Moreover, given the skip patterns embedded within the online survey, it makes it possible to determine which cases have irregular response patterns that would suggest that the respondent was giving the researcher bad data.  I feel confident that the data collected from this survey are accurate.”

Results from the study showed that 63 percent of the participants were involved in organized sports at some point during 2009 to 2012. The authors also found that male athletes used and misused opioid medications more often than males who did not participate in sports. 

More specifically, male adolescents who participated in organized sports had 1.86 times higher odds of being prescribed an opioid medication, 10.5 times higher odds of taking too much of their prescribed opioid medication and 4.0 times higher odds of using their prescribed medication to get high compared with males who did not participate in organized sports.

The researchers did not find an association between male participation in organized sports and the non-medical use of opioid medications.

“One surprise was that female athletes were not more likely to be prescribed opioids medications or misuse them,” said Dr. Veliz. “Sports are a powerful site to be recognized as a man, and male adolescents will sacrifice their bodies through athletic performances to prove their masculinity. Consequently, opioid use and misuse among males could be the by-product of a play-through-pain culture.”

The authors of the study concluded that adolescent males who participate in sports may be at risk for opioid medication misuse, and more supervision of teens from parents and coaches is necessary.

“In general (among all male sports participants), having unsupervised access to opioid medications is a driving factor behind misuse. These drugs are being treated, or viewed, by adolescents (and parents) as something 'safer' than street drugs. Although these drugs serve an important function to manage pain (acute pain), they still have a high abuse potential and doctors must be more aggressive in telling both the parent and child the potential dangers of misuse," Dr. Veliz said.

This study was published on November 12 in the Journal of Adolescent Health. The authors had no disclosures to make.

Review Date: 
November 11, 2013
Last Updated:
December 30, 2013