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Research Summary

Participation in Football and Wrestling is Associated with Nonmedical Use of Opioid Medications Among Adolescents

The prescribing of opioids and the nonmedical use of prescription opioids among adolescents in the United States has grown over the past 15 years. Participation in sports is associated with injuries that may lead to prescribed and nonprescribed opioid use. Data from the annual Monitoring the Future cross-sectional survey of U.S. 8th and 10th grade students in 2010 and 2011 were analyzed for an association between participation in sports and nonmedical use of prescription opioids (NMUPO)

  • Overall, 5.5% of 13,636 respondents reported NMUPO in the past 12 months. Those who participated in any competitive sport did not have significantly higher rates of NMUPO (adjusted odds ratio [AOR], 1.17).
  • Participation in football (AOR, 1.50) and wrestling (AOR, 1.49) in particular were associated with a higher rate of NMUPO. Other sports were not associated with higher rates, including ice hockey (AOR, 0.88) and soccer (AOR, 1.04).
  • Hydrocodone (combined with acetaminophen) and oxycodone were the most prevalent prescription opioids used nonmedically.
  • Other factors associated with NMUPO included nonurban residence, female gender, white race, having ever been suspended from school and being in 10th grade (compared with 8th grade).


This study suggests that participation in certain sports is associated with nonmedical prescription opioid use. The authors cite previous research showing that football players and wrestlers have the highest rate of injury among high school athletes to explain why these two sports stood out. While much of this use is probably self-treatment of pain resulting from injuries, it raises the concern that for a minority this will lead to serious problems, including addiction and overdose. Darius A. Rastegar, MD


Veliz PT, Boyd C, McCabe SE. Playing through pain: sports participation and nonmedical use of opioid medications among adolescents. Am J Pub Health. 2013;103(5):e28–30.