Prescription drug abuse by athletes is rising, experts warn
CLEARWATER - Sports fans love when athletes risk it all on the field. But that adventurous bent also can increase a player's risk for abusing prescription drugs, addiction specialists said Monday at a local summit of medical, coaching and sports industry professionals. The sports world traditionally has put its focus on the abuse of anabolic steroids. But there's growing concern that painkillers used to treat on-the-field injuries and stimulants used to control the symptoms of attention deficit disorders are increasingly being abused, said Laurence Westreich, a drug abuse psychiatrist and consultant for Major League Baseball. Narcotic painkillers can become a crutch for athletes determined to play through pain. And when misused, the popular stimulant Adderall can provide athletes the mental and physical boost they think they need to win, Westreich said."They see how effective they are … they work," he said of the drugs' intended uses. "That's why people abuse these drugs." Substance abuse is nothing new for psychologists and doctors working with professional athletes, said several speakers at the "Rising Drug Abuse in Athletes" conference, hosted by Associates in Emergency Medical Education Inc. But the problem can be exacerbated by athletes hoping to increase their speed or strength in order to impress coaches, parents or adoring fans, said Charles Maher, a veteran sports and performance psychologist for Cleveland's professional baseball, football and basketball teams. It also can be triggered when athletes are mentally fatigued, injured or anxious about their ability to perform. "The athlete is at risk … simply because of the culture," Maher said. Athletes often are exposed to pain medications following acute injuries, said Michael Harris, a pain specialist at the Andrews Institute, an orthopedic and sports medicine surgical center in Gulf Breeze. Parents, coaches and trainers should never let an athlete be treated for pain without identifying an "exit strategy" for highly addictive narcotics, he said. Or they could pursue a non-narcotic alternative, such as an isolated pain block to an injured area. Harris said physicians issuing prescriptions for more than two weeks at a time should be challenged for a more conservative approach. "You shouldn't have (a surplus) of these drugs floating around people's homes," he said. Those issues are magnified in youth athletics, said conference participant Barbara Morris, director of the Sports Medicine and Athletic Related Trauma Institute at the University of South Florida. Many teens are nonchalant about prescription drugs, she said. Young athletes don't see the risks, especially if they've been prescribed the drugs for legitimate reasons, said Morris, whose program provides athletic trainers and education to area schools. "I'm afraid we're going to see the problem increase before it can get better," she said.
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