Teen Athletes Have Lower Risk of Misusing Opioids

Teen athletes are less likely to use opioids for nonmedical purposes, according to University of Michigan researchers.

The study, published in Pediatrics, evaluated nearly 192,000 eighth- and 10th-grade students who replied to Monitoring the Future, a national survey on the beliefs and behaviors of young people, from 1997 to 2014.

Respondents answered questions on past-year participation in sports and exercise, lifetime nonmedical prescription opioid use (NPOU), lifetime heroin use, age of NPOU onset and age of heroin onset.

Of those who responded, 53.3 percent reported daily involvement in sports or exercise, and 38.8 percent reported performing these activities once per week. Nearly 8 percent of teens surveyed indicated no involvement in sports or exercise.

Students who participated in sports or exercise the previous year were less likely to misuse prescription opioids or heroin than their less active peers.

“The unfortunate pattern of prescription painkiller misuse to heroin use was not something that was more likely to occur among athletes either moderately or highly involved in sports,” Philip Veliz, lead author of the study, told CNN.

Nonmedical use of these drugs among young athletes has declined over time. Opioid misuse dropped from 8.8 percent in 1997 to 4.4 percent in 2014. Heroin use decreased from 1.8 percent to 0.8 percent during that time.

Previous Research Tells a Different Story

The findings contradict Veliz’s previous research that found teen athletes may be at increased risk of opioid abuse.

A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that adolescent athletes who participate in football, wrestling and other high-contact sports had 50 percent higher odds of nonmedical use of prescription opioids.

Another study, published in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, linked interscholastic sport participation with opioid misuse later in life. The findings also indicated participants were at greater odds of being approached to divert their prescription medications.

However, Veliz says most student athletes do not damage their bodies through physical activity — they strengthen them. Also, most teens do not engage in high-contact sports that increase the likelihood of injury.

Veliz believes the physical and social benefits of sports impacted the results of the University of Michigan study.

Teen athletes reap numerous benefits. They do better academically, learn the importance of teamwork and are more goal-oriented, according to the University of Missouri Women’s and Children’s Hospital.

Sports increase physical fitness and lower the risk of osteoporosis, breast cancer and substance abuse. These activities also boost self-esteem and reduce stress.

Teen Opioid Abuse in the United States

Veliz found the decrease in opioid misuse among teens since 1997 particularly surprising. He expected an increase because of recent trends.

According to the 2015 results for the Monitoring the Future survey, 5.4 percent of 12th-graders reported past-year use of opioids other than heroin, 4.4 percent reported Vicodin use and 3.7 percent reported OxyContin use.

Overall, 23.6 percent of 12th-graders, 16.5 percent of 10th-graders and 8.1 percent of 8th-graders reported past-year use of illicit drugs. Despite these findings, past-year use of opioids among adolescents has decreased over the last five years.

Medical Disclaimer: DrugRehab.com aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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