Opioid use and chronic pain

The July 2014 issue of Consumer Reports includes an investigation into the dangers of painkilling medication - particularly opioid use and abuse.

I’d touched on these issues in Pro Sports: Beyond Cannabis Part 2, but this article takes them to a new level.

Included was this comment:

It starts with drugs such as OxyContin, Percocet, and Vicodin—prescription narcotics that can make days bearable if you are recovering from surgery or suffering from cancer. But they can be as addictive as heroin and are rife with deadly side effects.

Use of those and other opioids has skyrocketed in recent years. Prescriptions have climbed 300 percent in the past decade, and Vicodin and other drugs containing the narcotic hydrocodone are now the most commonly prescribed medications in the U.S. With that increased use have come increased deaths: 46 people per day, or almost 17,000 people per year, die from overdoses of the drugs. That’s up more than 400 percent from 1999. And for every death, more than 30 people are admitted to the emergency room because of opioid complications.

Three of every four deaths from prescription drug overdose in the U.S. involve opioids, leaving a total of just under 17,000 fatalities. A new and more powerful opioid is coming out from San Diego’s Zogenix. Called Zohydro ER, it carries even higher potency. That means that it has the capacity for even more potential deaths.

The NFL has been purchasing opioids in bulk for decades. The teams themselves have kept poor records about what happens once the drugs are in the teams' hands. It’s a small wonder that addiction and abuse have become watchwords for the use of these medications in sports.

The CR article also noted the dangers to the liver created by over the counter drugs (also called OTC meds), especially acetaminophen/Tylenol. It’s the #1 cause of liver failure in the U.S. right now.

CR noted:

Opioids aren’t the only painkillers that pose serious risks. Almost as dangerous is a medication renowned for its safety: acetaminophen (Tylenol and generic). Almost 80,000 people per year are treated in emergency rooms because they have taken too much of it, and the drug is now the most common cause of liver failure in this country.

A lot of athletes who don’t abuse opioids have no idea how dangerous Tylenol and similar OTC medications (ie Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory Medication, or NSAIDs) can be.

From CR:

And with acetaminophen, accidentally taking too much is all too easy. That’s because it’s the most common drug in the U.S., found as an ingredient in more than 600 OTC and prescription medications, including allergy aids, cough and cold remedies, fever reducers, pain relievers, and sleep aids.

What’s the answer? Between the painful side effects and addiction rates regarding opioids, and the constant danger of NSAIDS, moving to the use of CBD and MMJ is only sensible for professional athletes.

Since the league is currently unlikely to change its stance on MMJ, CBD should start playing a larger and larger role in extending the professional athlete’s career. Its level of safety and effectiveness should make it a standard over more dangerous medications.

Last month, the Daily News reported that the DEA is quietly beginning an investigation into painkiller abuse in the NFL. Trainers, who aren’t legally allowed to hand out the meds, will be the first interviewed, since they’re most vulnerable.

I hope the investigation gets up to the real culprits before any current players (or more ex-players) die from this problem.

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