Parents should monitor student athletes prescribed opioids for injuries


Students who play sports are more likely to be prescribed an opioid painkiller than those who don't play sports because of the chance of injury during a game or practice. That can lead to abuse of the addictive medication. Parents should monitor the prescriptions and even request doctors use other methods of pain relief if there is concern about addiction, said Dr. Elizabeth Winter, medical director of Anne Arundel Medical Center's Pathways, a substance use and co-occurring mental health treatment facility.

How common is it for a young person to be prescribed opioids for pain?

The rate of opioid prescription for adolescents has mirrored the general national trend of dramatically increasing prevalence. Between 1994 and 2007, the percentage of adolescents prescribed opiates, which include narcotic painkillers like Vicodin, OxyContin and Percocet, almost doubled from 3.5 percent to 6 percent. Among teen athletes, these numbers are even greater. According to a study by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, 12 percent of male athletes and 8 percent of female athletes have used prescription opioids in the last 12 months.

Is there a movement among those who treat youth sports injuries to avoid the addictive drugs?

The national conversation about opioid abuse and dependence has shined a spotlight on all uses of prescription opiates. Providers are trying to be more conscious of their prescribing practices, particularly with the (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's) new draft guidelines on prescribing opiates for chronic pain. However, when athletes are injured, they want to get back in the game as soon as possible. The doctors treating them will determine the best way to repair the injuries and may prescribe pain medications. This is where some young athletes are put (at) greater risk of addiction than adolescents (who don't participate in sports).

How do opiates end up being abused by the child or others in the household?

Studies show about a third of these young people obtain pills from their own previous prescriptions. Further, a study from 2013 demonstrated that 83 percent of the adolescents polled had unsupervised access to their own prescription medications. These drugs are often perceived as "safer" than street drugs like heroin, and easy access can quickly lead to abusing the medication by either taking more than is prescribed or using it to get high. Several studies have shown that adolescents who use medication to get high are most likely to get access to these drugs from family members or friends than from drug dealers or the Internet. Eighty percent of heroin users made the switch to heroin after abusing narcotic painkillers, according to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

What can parents do to avoid taking opioids home or protecting them from being overused?

Parents should speak with their children's prescribers and question the necessity of an opioid prescription versus other, nonopioid methods of treatment. This is especially true if there is a family history of addiction. If opioids are necessary for adequate pain control, parents can request a prescription for the minimum amount, without refills, in order to decrease the quantity of pills available. Parents should also place any controlled substances in a locked container and administer them to their children with appropriate monitoring. Finally, it is important to properly dispose of any unused controlled substances. The (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's) website has a searchable database for medication take-back programs. Other options include contacting your local retail or hospital pharmacy.

What can parents do if they believe their child is becoming dependent?

Signs of opioid dependence include taking higher doses than prescribed, seeming sleepy or difficult to arouse from sleep at odd points during the day, excessive mood swings or having physical symptoms of withdrawal like nausea, profuse sweating and agitation, only to appear "fine" an hour or so later. If a parent is concerned their child has become dependent on opioids, they can begin by speaking with their pediatrician and getting a urine drug test to confirm usage. The next step is to get an assessment to determine the most appropriate level of care for substance use treatment, which can range from prevention education to more intensive outpatient services all the way up to inpatient detoxification. The easiest way to find a treatment center close to you is to call (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's) national hotline at 1-800-662-4357 or look on (its) website,


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