In an ongoing effort to help address this particular aspect of the nation’s opioid crisis, Bridgewater State University is taking a closer look at athletes and the possible impact painkillers can have.
“Opioid-based narcotics are truly gateway drugs,” Dr. James Leone said. “Here at Bridgewater we want to continue to talk about steps that are being taken or explore different steps we can take” to address the problem.
Research shows that nearly 7.7 million adolescents participated in interscholastic sports in 2013, and approximately 20 percent have sustained an injury that resulted in medical attention. Surgeries due to sports-related injuries have also increased.
How to best treat an athlete’s pain is the topic of a recent policy/white paper crafted by faculty at BSU and currently under consideration for inclusion in the Bridgewater Review.
“When you separate your shoulder, you will likely be seen by a physician and prescribed pain medication,” said Leone, professor of Public Health and Athletic Training. “Part of our job as athletic trainers is patient education in assessing the pain.”
When a doctor prescribes a 30-day supply of opioids, such as Percocet, many feel they have to use them because they were prescribed.
“People think they need to take the pills as prescribed or the pain will be unbearable,” Leone said. However, everyone has a different threshold when it comes to pain and may not need so much pain medication if any at all. “Some people are impervious to it, others are on the opposite end of the spectrum.”
In an effort to find better ways to manage pain, Leone, Dr. Suanne Maurer-Starks, Athletic Training Program director, Dr. Kimberly Wise, assistant professor of Athletic Training and Dr. Daniel A. Muse of Signature Health Care/Brockton Hospital researched and proposed solutions for athletic trainers to not only identify patients who may be at risk of opioid addiction, but also advocate for more preventative-based pain-management programs.
Together the group came up with a policy paper covering opioids and acute pain management in athletes.
“We are the eyes and ears in athletics and school systems, we work with doctors and see more of the every day, that’s why we crafted these recommendations to put out there to use,” Leone said.
It’s assumed, given the number of sports injuries each year, that adolescents may be prescribed opioid medications to manage their pain.
Because of this, one idea the policy suggests is to use “Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral, and Treatment” (SBIRT).
“The SBIRT approach may be most useful during vulnerable periods for athletes such as post-injury and post-surgical due to the high potential for pain and access to medications to treat it,” states the policy.
The rule of “three” is also recommended when taking pain killers. Once prescribed, patients should take no more than three opioid pills for three days, if needed.
“If it exceeds three days, then the pain needs to be re-assessed,” Leone said.
The goal with the policy and its recommendations is to share it with other outlets, including the National Athletic Trainers Association so others can benefit from the research.
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