Opiates are drugs created from opium plants and are often used to treat pain. While heroin is a widely known illegal opiate drug, there are also several versions of opiates that are available by prescription. Some of these opiate prescriptions include: hydrocodone, Percocet, OxyContin, oxycodone, Fentanyl, and codeine. These drugs are used primarily to aid in the recovery of injury and pain. While very effective, these drugs are Schedule II drugs. This classification means these drugs have a high risk-potential for abuse and addiction.
The use of drugs to improve performance dates back to the early 1900s, with drug use first reported in the 1904 Olympics. Even in the 1920s, mixtures of strychnine, heroin, cocaine, and caffeine were used by high performing athletes. Many athletes use opiates as a perceived way to move ahead of the competition. Athletes of all levels struggle with opiate abuse as a way to treat pain and/or injury. Some professional athletes have openly admitted to opiate abuse in order to get back on the field, finish a season, or stay on the team roster.
Athletes know that an injury can happen in the blink of an eye, and there is always another competitor eager to fill an open position. Professional athletes also depend on their physical abilities to earn a paycheck. Professional athletes have devoted years of their life to developing their skills. As a result, their athletic career is all they know, and an injury can be devastating on many levels.
Athletes face pressure to return from injury as soon as possible. If pain or injury prevents an athlete from participating, he or she often feels desperate to do whatever it takes to heal. This can mean using a variety of medications to dull the pain or to speed up the recovery process. Some athletes may choose to delay surgery or skip recovery time through the use of opiate painkillers.
When powerful drugs are used for extended periods of time the risk for tolerance, dependence, and addiction increases. There is also a risk of aggravating injury and causing greater damage.
Opiate abuse is not only a problem on the professional sports level; it trickles down to minors, collegiate, and youth sports programs. The need to win, compete, and out-perform others has become so intense for athletes even student and teen athletes experience intense pressure to perform. While these athletes are not paid, they can earn social status, please authoritative figures (parents, teachers, school staff, people in the community, etc.), and earn scholarships or honors.
Healthy opiate use and pain management needs to be practiced in the earlier stages of athletics as a way to help prevent athletes from abusing opiates later down the road. Athletes must be aware of the several risks and dangers associated with opiate abuse. While an injury may prevent an athlete from participating for a while, an opiate addiction can prevent an athlete from ever playing a sport again. There are also many adverse consequences in regards to relationships, well-being, finances, health, livelihood and more.
Help for Athletes Dealing with Pain and Opiate Abuse
For help with opiate abuse you can call our toll-free, 24-hour helpline and speak with a recovery professional that can help. Whether you have questions, need information, or want to find treatment options for pain or opiate abuse, dependence or addiction, we are happy to help.
 http://www.dea.gov/druginfo/ds.shtml Drug Schedules
 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4140700/ Drug Abuse in Athletes. Reardon, Claudia. Published on August 14th, 2014.