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Elizabeth Quinn

Painkiller Addiction Widespread in Pro Sports

By March 11, 2009

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The extreme physical wear and tear that professional athletes endure can cause a myriad of injuries, aches and chronic pain which can often lead to the use of painkillers. Managing pain is one of the biggest issues doctors and trainers face when treating injured players. For some athletes, pain pills are an essential part of getting through training and competition. Pro athletes and pain

Photo: Mike Stobe / Getty Images

In this special report from Tampa Bay Online, Joe Henderson reports that doctors are seeing an increase in the number of current and former NFL players who are either addicted or physically dependent on painkillers. One doctor who treats athletes with addiction problems says pain medications are "10 times more common in sports than steroids."

Prescription narcotics fall into the category of opioids, which include powerful drugs like morphine, codeine and heroin. Opioids attach to receptors in the central nervous system and prevent the brain from receiving pain messages. They also produce feelings of euphoria, and a"high" that many people using these drugs begin to crave. Long-term use of opioids, however, can alter immune system function and, ironically, increase pain sensitivity. Athletes often build up a tolerance to a given dose of the medication, thereby requiring more and more of the drug to get the same effect.

Common Painkillers
Doctors often prescribe the following medications for moderate to severe pain.

Oxycontin
This is a strong narcotic pain reliever similar to morphine and is designed to treat moderate to severe pain over a long time. It should only be used as directed by a doctor. Side effects may include nausea, vomiting, constipation, mild itching, drowsiness, dry mouth, lightheadedness, loss of appetite and weakness.

Vicodin
This medication is a combination of the narcotic hydrocodone and acetaminophen. Side effects may include nausea, vomiting, constipation, lightheadedness, dizziness, drowsiness, vision changes and mood disturbances.

Percocet
This medication is a combination of the narcotic oxycodone and acetaminophen. Long-term use can result in tolerance and reduced effectiveness. Side effects may include nausea, vomiting, constipation, lightheadedness, dizziness, drowsiness, vision changes and mood disturbances.

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