Teen athletes are less likely to abuse prescription opioids and heroin than non-athletes, indicating that sports participation may have a “protective factor,” according to a new study.
“The physical activity and positive social connections embedded within sport may serve as a positive developmental experience that can potentially deter youth from serious types of illicit substance use like NPOU (nonmedical prescription opioid use), heroin or cocaine,” the authors wrote in the study “Nonmedical Prescription Opioid and Heroin Use Among Adolescents Who Engage in Sports and Exercise” (Veliz P, et al. Pediatrics. July 25, 2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-0677).Previous research has found adolescent athletes in competitive sports are at risk of being prescribed opioids for injuries and also misusing them. Because prescription misuse may lead to heroin use, researchers from the University of Michigan Institute for Research on Women and Gender set out to find out if athletes also are at higher risk of using heroin.
They used data on eighth- and 10th-graders from 1997 to 2014 obtained from the Monitoring the Future survey. Respondents answered questions about opioid use and participation in sports or exercise.
During the study period, NPOU and heroin use declined regardless of whether the teens participated in sports or exercise. Athletes had lower odds of both NPOU and heroin use than non-athletes.
Roughly 11.2% of non-athletes engaged in NPOU during their lifetime compared to 8.4% of those participating in sports or exercise once a week and 6.5% participating in sports or exercise almost daily.
About 2.9% of non-athletes had used heroin in their lifetime compared to 1.8% of those engaging in sports or exercise once a week and 1.3% of those participating in sports or exercise almost daily.
“While athletes in high injury sports should be monitored for opioid analgesic prescriptions and misuse, the overwhelming majority of athletes do not participate in these types of sports and are not at a higher risk of using or misusing prescription opioids or heroin,” according to the study.