How Student Athletes Could be Affected by the Heroin Epidemic

athleteHeroin use is becoming more and more popular throughout the country, growing in prevalence in areas as diverse as downtown New York, rural Oklahoma, the backwoods of the Appalachian Mountains and the desert regions of the Southwest. Part of this growing problem stems from the increasing popularity of abusing prescription drugs–four out of five recent initiates to the world of heroin abuse arrived there by way of prescription drugs.

They switch to heroin when they find that it’s cheaper and easier to gain access to than prescription pills (which are more highly regulated and restricted), but has a very similar chemical structure. Because of this, more and more demographics of people are falling victim to heroin’s siren song. Even suburban kids can get hooked on prescription pain meds, mistakenly thinking that because they’re prescribed by a doctor (perhaps to one of their parents) they must be safe. Then it’s a short step to heroin abuse. This may be even more true for teens, since they have limited cash flow and may be too embarrassed or scared to seek help after getting hooked on prescription meds.

THE PARTICULAR DANGER TO STUDENT ATHLETES

High school sports can be incredibly competitive and aggressive—especially for students who have dreams of being recruited onto a good college team.   Teen athletes are injured at about the same rate that adult athletes are, but with the added physical stress that their bodies are still growing. This can lead to increased risk of injuries to the tendons, muscles and growth plates (located at the end of bones).   In addition to this, teens are susceptible to peer pressure. This can lead them to keep playing with an injury that they really should be allowing to rest.

When a teen athlete is dealing with a major sports injury, they will likely be prescribed high-strength painkillers. Because of the pressure to get back on the field for “the big game,” the teen may rely on the prescription meds longer than recommended. Or he may hear from friends that when crushed and snorted, these medications produce a fairly epic high. However, it’s not possible to get too many refills on a prescription pain med before the doctor starts to raise an eyebrow.   Black market pain pills are expensive—up to $80 for a single pill in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin area. When the teen athlete hears that heroin can be purchased in many areas for only about $15 per bag, it opens the door to heroin abuse.

“STEVE,” A CASE STUDY

Wisconsin is one of the hotbeds of heroin use right now, and that’s the area from which a former teen athlete is speaking out, attempting to prevent others from falling into the same trap that he did. “Steve,” as he asked to be called in order to protect his identity, was a high school football player who suffered a sports injury for which he was prescribed vicodin.

Steve experienced one of the common effects of opioid use, which is the feeling of being faster, stronger and otherwise “better” than he was without the drugs. He says in reality, they harmed his performance—but he wasn’t able to see that until after the abuse stopped.

He began to raid the medicine cabinets of friends, and even sold pills to other students to support his own addiction.   Since high school, Steve continued to struggle with his addiction, falling in and out of rehab, being kicked out of several homes, and fighting the constant battle against the temptation of addiction. He has made it his life’s mission to advocate against heroin use so others can avoid the trap he fell into.

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