In a recent ESPN study of opiate painkiller use in the NFL, it was discovered that misuse of opiate drugs was four times more common among NFL players than the general public. This data is no surprise to many NFL players, with many becoming increasingly concerned over the use of opiates in the league and pushing for alternative painkillers like marijuana.
In the NFL world, it’s not unusual for players to take 100+ pain pills a month throughout the season, or walk out of the doctor’s office with a 10-year prescription for anti-inflammatories. Players see it all the time, whether it’s happening to them or not, which leads to many questioning why marijuana is still banned, despite the widespread acceptance of the plant as a natural painkiller and anti-inflammatory with fewer negative side effects than opiates.
Of the 644 players who were questioned in the study, 52% said they took opiate painkillers while in the league; 71% of those admitted to having abused pain pills at some point. It also found that 63% of retired players who still used pain pills obtained them from someone other than a doctor, whether it be a friend, family member, a dealer, or the internet. And yet, despite all of this, the league would still rather ban weed.
Pittsburgh Steelers guard Ramon Foster is one player who wants to see the league reconsider its hard stance, especially if it will help cut down on opiate abuse.
“If I can stop a guy from using opioids or any other type of drug that inhibits him or makes him an addict, I would rather that guy smoke marijuana than to be on something that’s a cousin to heroin,” he said in an interview. Foster also happens to be the team’s union representative, meaning it’s easier for him to get through to the Player’s Association than other teammates. Still, he says he needs “higher clearance” in order to comfortably discuss the situation.
The encouraging side is that the league’s pain management committee plans to expand its scope of research, which will now include marijuana. This could bring some much-needed relief to players who want to use the healing properties of the plant without sacrificing their careers or health.
Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward calls the research “due diligence.” He says the league “wouldn’t be doing it if they didn’t think it was something. But we’ve got to find scientific backing behind it.”
As happy as some players are to see marijuana inching closer, Foster still respects the league’s decisions to suspend or fine players who are caught breaking the law. This is becoming less and less of a risk, however, with about a quarter of the league’s teams playing in states where pot is legal.With the law, science, and some determined players on its side, marijuana in the NFL shouldn’t expect to be a sensitive topic for long.