HEALTH

How to combat opioid abuse in student athletes

BY Briana Vannozzi, Correspondent |

Ending the stigma around those caught in the opioid crisis is one reason former Rutgers University and NFL quarterback Ray Lucas shared his story.

“When they say are you injured or are you hurt? Well, what’s that mean? Well, if you’re injured you can’t play, if you’re hurt you can play, so that’s a challenge to your masculinity. So for me it was, ‘Coach, I can play through anything’ and I was suffering in silence because I didn’t know how to ask for help. I’m not conditioned that way,” said Lucas.

Student athletes are particularly vulnerable to opioid abuse. Studies show youth who participate in high injury sports had a 50% greater risk of opioid misuse because the injury is often the pathway to opioid addiction.

“What we know is that about a third of individuals who experience an overdose began using opioid medications by prescription,” said Don Liss, vice president and chief medial officer for Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield New Jersey.

“Everything is monitored, both trainers and the medical staff, with our partnership with RWJ Barnabas Health we have the best-in-class medical doctors that are paying attention to this,” said Rutgers athletic director Pat Hobbs.

The Partnership for Drug-Free New Jersey and Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield New Jersey, an underwriter of NJTV News, is traveling across the state to host Knock Out Opioid Abuse town hall events. Friday they were at the Rutgers University Athletic Center sharing personal stories.

“As I was living a life as the attorney general fighting this, I was also living a personal life in which we were fighting the addiction of my sister-in-law,” said former acting attorney general John Hoffman, who know serves as senior vice president and general counsel at Rutgers University.

“We lost 10,000 people in this state to drug overdoses, the majority of which were heroin- and opioid-related,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal.

The state has taken an aggressive stance in enforcement, prevention and education by recently partnering with the governing body for high school athletes and issuing a video called Paths to Addiction.

The take-away from the panel: Use the student athlete mentality to confront red flags when you see them and use teamwork to build each other up and find help when it’s needed.

“If you know someone that’s using, please don’t think about street credibility, ‘I’m going to be a rat.’ Because if that person feels that way, all you have to say to them is, ‘I’d rather tell someone than go to your funeral,'” said Greg Vetrone, director of player development for the Rutgers University men’s basketball team.

“For us athletes, there’s injuries. Like they said, injuries happen in sports and for us to take that message and spread it to our teammates and our fellow athletes to knock it out,” said senior Rutgers baseball player Tevin Murray.

Cracking the epidemic to be part of the solution.