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Former NFL players susceptible to painkiller abuse

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While football fans across the country (particularly in my home state) are gearing up for next week's Super Bowl, new research in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence is shedding light on a darker side of the sport.

In the first scientific study of prescription painkiller use by retired NFL players, researchers at Washington University in St. Louis have found that former players misuse opioid pain medications at a rate more than four times that of the general population. They also found a tie with players' former use: Those who misused painkillers during their playing days were three times more likely to misuse the drugs now.

The study, lead researcher Linda Cottler, PhD, MPH, told, has "public health implications for players of sports all over the world." And others said the findings showed a need to better protect and care for professional athletes:

When asked for possible solutions, [Bob Newton, a former lead counselor at the Betty Ford Clinic and former player] said NFL players should be required to have screenings "to see the extent to which they are predisposed to the risk of addiction."

[Eric Strain, MD, with the Johns Hopkins Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and Research], said the only way for NFL officials to definitively know the extent of painkiller use and misuse by current players is to aggressively test for the drugs.

"That's why this is a useful study, because it suggests that maybe this is something [the NFL] should consider doing," Strain said. "At least consider doing it on a pilot basis and see what's happening."

Photo by christopher frier brown

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