Opioid Misuse Among Youth Athletes

Imagine you are putting away the dinner that you prepared for your family while your spouse is watching television and your 17-year-old son has retreated to his room. While your son has been an athlete and has not given you much trouble most of his life, in recent months you have noted more reclusive behavior and some changes in the friends he has around. On second observation and more thought, you realize this behavior change can correlate to a period when he tore his ACL and endured surgery, missing the first part of his soccer season to recover.

Unfortunately, we are in a time in the United States where many stories that start the way this one has, end up in tragedy or years of addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, in 2016, 153,000 individuals ages 12-17 suffered from opioid use disorder. With youth sports participation reaching an estimated 30 million kids, there are more than 3.5 million injuries associated with youth sports yearly. Taking these statistics into consideration, youth athletes are at an increased risk for exposure to being prescribed prescription painkillers or having a teammate or friend that has been prescribed prescription painkillers.

Let’s reexamine the 17-year-old young man. An ACL reconstruction surgery could have potentially led to a temporary prescription for Oxycodone, a prescription opioid pain killer. In an article published by Truth Initiative, it was cited that opioid dependence can happen within as little as five days. After the prolonged period of missing out on his sport of choice, this young man may have felt some sense of depression returning to a team in which he has to re-establish his position. Coupled with slight feelings of depression, he may also feel some discomfort and pain associated with his healing and returning to the sport.

After a long day of training and hanging out with friends, another teammate of this young man offers him a pill that he was recently prescribed after recovering from a similar injury. The 17-year old young man was familiar with the medication because it happened to be what was prescribed to him after surgery, so he was comfortable with taking the pill. In a report published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2017, about 50% of those who misused pain killers in the previous year stated that they received them for free from a friend or relative. Because prescription opioids are potent and highly addictive, use that is not closely supervised by a physician can quickly lead to addiction and an increased risk for heroin use.

As parents, relatives, neighbors, and friends, we must all do our part in protecting ourselves and loved ones from the risk of opioid use disorder and other addictions. We can do this by keeping all prescription medications locked up in a safe place away from minors and those that they do not belong. It would also be beneficial to educate our children about the dangers of sharing medications and taking anything over the counter or prescription that does not belong to them and is not supervised by a parent or physician. Ask your children what they think about sharing medication and if they have been offered medication from their peers.

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