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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

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Abuse of Rx Painkillers in High School Athletes

Teen football players use the most illegal drugs, research shows

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Mary Elizabeth Dallas

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Aug. 4, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Abuse of prescription painkillers is on the rise among high school athletes, and football players are among the worst offenders, a new study shows.

The finding was published online recently in the Journal of Child & Adolescent Substance Abuse.

"I've studied the use of performance-enhancing substances in sports for about 15 years, and this study extended that line of research to mind-altering substances," study author Bryan Denham, of Clemson University in South Carolina, said in a journal news release.

"Alcohol has always been available, as has marijuana, but young people also may look to stronger drugs for euphoric effects," Denham said. "If prescription pain relievers are overprescribed in certain regions, their use may trickle down to adolescents. Use of narcotic pain relievers may become a habit with some adolescent athletes."

The researchers analyzed the responses of nearly 2,300 high school seniors who participated in a 2009 survey, sponsored by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The students' gender, race and participation in school sports were recorded. Boys who participated in baseball, basketball, football, soccer, swimming and diving, and track and field were interviewed. Girls who participated in softball, basketball, soccer, volleyball, swimming and diving, and track and field were also included in the study.

Generally, the student athletes used illegal substances more often than their peers who did not play sports, the study showed. Overall, substance abuse was more common among boys than girls. Football players, the researchers noted, used the most illegal drugs.

After considering the students' race, the researchers also found that white students used drugs more often than their black or Hispanic peers.

Abuse of prescription painkillers such as morphine and codeine is also on the rise. In the survey, 12 percent of the boys and 8 percent of the girls said they had abused these medications, an increase from previous surveys, Denham noted.

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