Most Teen Athletes at Low Risk of Painkiller Misuse

ELK GROVE VILLAGE, Ill. — While research has shown that some teen athletes in high-injury sports are at higher risk of prescription painkiller misuse, a new study in the August 2016 issue of Pediatrics found the majority of adolescents regularly engaged in sports and exercise are less likely to misuse these types of drugs.

The report, “Nonmedical Prescription Opioid and Heroin Use among Adolescents Who Engage in Sports and Exercise,” looks at data from more than 191,000 eighth- and 10th-grade students. The students were participating in the federally funded Monitoring the Future study between 1997 and 2014, a time period that coincided with a significant rise in opioid analgesics such as hydrocodone being prescribed for U.S. children and adolescents.

During the same period, media reports documented concerns about young athletes who misused opioids prescribed to manage pain after an injury and eventually turning to heroin, an illicit form of opioid. However, students who reported participating in sport and exercise almost every day — and even those who said they participate in these activities once a week at most — had lower odds of indicating both past-year opioid misuse and past-year heroin use when compared to respondents who reported no involvement in these activities, according to the study.

More research is needed on the specific risks of opioid use among young athletes in high-injury sports, the researchers said. Overall, though, this study suggests that regular participation in sport and exercise may serve as a protective factor with respect to painkiller misuse and subsequent heroin use.