NJSIAA Committee Recommends Alternatives to Narcotics

By Michael Hill

For high school athletes, the thrill of victory is sometimes followed by the agony of a painful injury and doctors say how some of them manage that pain can lead to another agony — of addiction to heroin.

“It really is a shame and it’s something that we really from a broad spectrum, should try to correct,” said Dr. John Kripsak.

Dr. Kripsak practices family medicine and sports medicine and chairs the Medical Advisory Committee of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.

“I think parents need to be educated about this problem. I think physicians, in this state, really need to be cognizant about this,” Kripsak said.

The committee has come up with a list of treatment guidelines to guard against addiction to narcotic painkillers. The committee recommends doctors exercise extreme caution prescribing opioids and do so only for acute pain for a week with no automatic refills; give the athletes detailed information and warnings about addiction; doctors and parents notify the school nurse and athletic trainer; establish a contract with the athlete to set boundaries; but even before that, doctors’ first option should be non-narcotic alternatives, including cryotherapy.

Doctors often advise patients to put ice on their injuries. Cryotherapy practitioners say this takes it a giant step further.

“It boosts metabolism. It increases the amount of anti-inflammatory mediators in the body. We see pain control. We see a significant reduction in the use of prescription, narcotic pain medication,” said Joshua Wein, medical director at Chill Cryotherapy.

The recommendation of cryotherapy as an alternative to opioids to treat young athletes is a major change for the medical profession. What is Cryotherapy? We came to Westfield at Chill Cryotherapy to find out.

Cryotherapy is the use of extreme cold to treat ailments. Liquid nitrogen mixed with air to create temperatures 220 degrees Farenheit below zero delivered in three- and four-minute blasts.

Medical device salesman Jeff Hamill uses it to counter the aches and pains of shoulder surgery.

“From before I started coming here it was the same soreness and stiffness. Afterwards, it’s a noticeable difference,” he said.

Stacy Weinman says she tried everything — traditional and alternative — for relief from migraines.

“What I didn’t expect was, however many months later six months later, that it’s alleviated lots of things,” she said.

Saul Simon uses it for anti-aging facials.

Some professional trainers are skeptical and think the benefits of cyrotherapy are psychological. But, Dr. Kripsak says it’s more than worth trying if the alternative is robotically prescribing addictive opioids.

“There’s a lot of pressure on us to get through the day to see all the people who want to see us. We do not have the time, most of us, or the facilities to handle the pain management practice and I think it’s best left to the pain management specialists,” he said.

Dr. Kripsak says the guidelines offer some hope to reversing New Jersey’s addiction crisis.

For more stories that are part of the initiative Healthy NJ: New Jersey’s Drug Addiction Crisis, click here.