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High School Athletes Are More at Risk of Abusing Opioids

Athletes face a tremendous amount of pressure, whether they’re professionals or students. Junior varsity athletes need to impress coaches to make varsity; varsity players need to impress scouts to earn an athletic scholarship. And no one wants to let their team down.

In a young athlete’s mind, they can’t afford to sit on the bench or slow down. In many cases, they’ll do whatever it takes to continue playing.

Injuries in high school athletes are common.

According to Stanford Medicine, approximately 30 million U.S. children and teens participate in sports annually, with those young athletes accounting for 3.5 million injuries.

We’re familiar with pro ballers using—and often abusing—prescription opioids to get back in the game. In some ways, we may even understand it. What would you do if your career and millions of dollars were on the line? You might take an extra dose or medicate longer than you should to cope with the pain.

It’s a slippery slope to addiction, but adult athletes aren’t the only ones at risk.

A recent study by The University of Michigan claims high school contact sports players are 50% more likely to misuse prescription stimulants in their early twenties than their peers. Although researchers are hesitant to cite a reason for this connection, it seems obvious.

In a previous article, we talked about how an estimated 54% of student athletes surveyed admitted to playing while injured. Many of these kids don’t play through the pain on their own; they use opioids.

High school athletes are often prescribed opioids for sports-related injuries, so it makes sense that they would be more at risk for developing substance use disorder. A 2022 Sports Health study makes a clear connection between opioid use during an athlete’s career and an increased chance of post-retirement use.

How can you help ensure that your high school athletes don’t fall victim to opioid abuse?

  • Talk to your child’s doctor about alternative pain management. – Don’t agree to an opioid prescription unless it’s absolutely necessary. If they are the best choice to help manage your child’s pain (especially post-surgery), ask for the minimum possible dose.
  • Keep track of your child’s medication. – Even if your child can responsibly take medication, you can choose to remain in charge of the opioids. At the very least, you can track the dosage to ensure they’re taking the correct amount.
  • Talk to your child about your concerns. – This doesn’t have to be a secret mission. Talk to your child about opioid addiction. Make them aware of the risks of pushing themselves too hard and getting hooked.
  • Keep an eye out for changes in behavior. – It doesn’t hurt to know the signs of addiction so you can recognize them in your child. If you suspect your child may be misusing opioids, make sure to express your concerns nonjudgmentally and get them professional help immediately.

If you are in San Diego and facing a situation with a loved one, spouse, or even a child that has started to spiral, please call us at (619) 452–1200.

Scott H. Silverman is a crisis coach and family navigator who is passionate about addiction education, prevention, and treatment. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction.





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Scott H. Silverman
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Scott found himself "hitting bottom" in 1984 and accepted that he needed help for his problem and pursued treatment and long-term recovery. After pursuing his own recovery, Scott dedicated his life to helping others who struggle with the same mental health and addiction issues that caused him so much pain. Scott has made an indelible mark on the lives of many in San Diego. He has been on KUSI dozens of times to raise awareness about the dangers that we face, and to speak a message of recovery.