Recent Poll Shows NFL Players Are Increasingly Concerned About Opioid Use and Addiction

They're fervently anti-marijuana, but league doctors are encouraging opioid use.

Photo Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives / Flickr Creative Commons

Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. Illicit drugs have plagued our country for decades but there is a new form of addiction taking a foothold in this dark statistic, and it’s legal.

Each year, over 20,000 deaths are attributed to opioid overdose as a result of prescribed painkillers. Opioids are the most commonly prescribed method of pain management, for anything from neck pain to knee surgery. But the addictive qualities of opioid-based painkillers are a Russian Roulette for patients.

According to a recent survey of over 150 NFL players, use of chemical painkillers in the NFL is extremely common, even encouraged by league physicians.

91% of current/former NFL players surveyed said they had taken opiate-based painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and propoxyphene for pain. 45% of players surveyed said they have felt pressured into using chemical painkillers by team doctors, staff, and teammates. Many also admitted to using chemical painkillers recreationally after their introduction to them by a physician.

Opioids are the strongest and fastest form of pain management available. NFL doctors often inject painkillers directly to the affected area for quick relief, allowing the player to return to the field more quickly.

These opioids not only come with a laundry list of side effects including sedation, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, constipation, tolerance, and respiratory depression, (to name a few); they are also extremely addictive. Almost 70% of NFL players polled have, at some point in their treatment, been concerned about their own unhealthy dependence on opioids.

BudTrader.com, the nation’s largest medical marijuana online marketplace, conducted the 38-page study after CEO, Brad McLaughlin, was made aware of the problem by former NFL player and Super Bowl champion, Marvin Washington.

Washington, an advocate for a safer form of pain management in the league, was quoted as saying, “If there's one sport that should legalize medical cannabis, it’s professional football. The unique compounds found in marijuana (CBD especially) can protect the brain as well as treat inflammation, insomnia and pain. CBD/Medical cannabis is a terrific alternative to prescription opiates."

And the majority of players polled on the BudTrader.com survey agree with Washington. According to the survey, 89% of both former and current NFL players feel that medical marijuana should be an alternative for injury pain management. 85% of players stated they would use fewer chemical painkillers if they were permitted access to medical marijuana.

However, the NFL strictly prohibits the use of cannabis, in any form.  A positive, or missed drug test results in fines and/or suspension, even in states where the drug is legal both medically and recreationally.

Roger Goodell, commissioner of the NFL, has been criticized by medical marijuana advocates for dragging his feet on reconsidering policy where medical marijuana is concerned.

Brad McLaughlin, CEO of BudTrader.com, has been a vocal advocate for the many uses of medical marijuana. “If cannabis, which does not have the addictive qualities of opioids and chemical painkillers, can be used as an alternative to these physically destructive medications, why wouldn’t the league adjust policy to use it? Unless player safety is not their highest concern.”

McLaughlin continued, “With the recent slew of medical marijuana legalizations and the epidemic of opioid addiction, the NFL rules must be rewritten. We need a safer way to manage pain for these players and the NFL is ignoring the obvious solution of medical marijuana because of its ties to pharma and alcohol big business. This means that, much like the concussion controversy, the NFL may be focusing on their bottom line more than the well-being of their players.”

But policy reform within the league may not be as far off as Goodell implies. A source from NFLPA said, “The NFL and the NFLPA are well aware of the challenges and side effects that come with treating pain with opiate based pain killers. The NFLPA plans to make medical cannabis a priority in collective bargaining negotiations."


Kelly Flowers is a freelance journalist and business writer as well as a staff writer at TheMarijuanaJournal.org and FioriCommunications.com.

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