Parents may need to take notice as a University of Michigan study suggests high school athletes who play high-contact sports (like hockey or football) are at greater risk for heroin use and nonmedical use of prescription opioids.
The study is unique as prior studies have not assessed the potential overlapping use of opioids and heroin among youth athletes, including those involved in different competitive sports.
The University of Michigan study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, focused on high-contact sports such as hockey, football, lacrosse, and wrestling where serious sport-related injuries are more likely.
Researchers examined the past-year prevalence of non-medical use of prescription opioids, heroin use and the concurrent abuse of nonprescription opioids and heroin in a sample of seniors involved in 16 different sports.
The data came from more than 21,000 students from the 2006-2014 cohorts of the Monitoring the Future study.
There were no differences found between 12th-graders who participated in at least one competitive sport and nonparticipants with respect to past-year abuse of prescription opioids, heroin use, and concurrent use of the drugs.
Most of the 16 sports analyzed were not associated with the three drug use outcomes. However, 12th-graders who participated in hockey had substantially greater odds of both past-year heroin use and concurrent use of both heroin and non-prescribed drugs.
Study leader, Philip Veliz, a research assistant professor at University of Michigan’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender explains that hockey may simply have riskier youth who are involved in the sport, or these athletes have greater access to opioids given that it is predominantly populated by white, middle-class youth.
Overall, 8.3 percent of the respondents indicated nonmedical use of nonprescription opioids and 0.9 percent reported heroin use during the past year. Roughly 0.6 percent of respondents indicated concurrent heroin and abuse of nonprescription opioids the past year.
With respect to past-year involvement in competitive sports, 69.3 percent of seniors participated in at least one competitive sport (30.4 percent, one sport only; 17.7 percent, two sports; 21.2 percent, three or more sports).
In particular, the sports with the highest percentage of participants included “other” sports (26 percent), basketball (20.2 percent), football (15.8 percent), baseball (14.5 percent), and soccer (12.9 percent).
Involvement in weightlifting and wrestling were associated with slightly higher odds of past-year nonprescription opioids, while involvement in soccer was modestly associated with lower odds of past-year nonprescription opioids, when compared to respondents who did not participate in these sports during the past-year.
Involvement in both hockey and weightlifting was significantly associated with greater odds of past-year heroin use when compared to respondents who did not participate in these two sports.
“The findings provide critical information to inform doctors and parents of the potential risks associated with participating in certain high contact sports and the need to monitor the use and misuse of prescription drugs that have high abuse potential,” Veliz said.
The study’s authors also included Carol Boyd, professor of nursing and women’s studies, and Sean Esteban McCabe, IRWG research professor.
Source: University of Michigan