Opiate medications have been the basis for pain relief over thousands of years. Unfortunately, inappropriate use has lead to an addiction crisis affecting many people, including high-level athletes.
Opium is an extract from the seedpods of the poppy plant most commonly grown in middle and far eastern countries. The most active substance in opium is morphine. Currently, a variety of oral opiates have successfully alleviated pain but in some cases lead to lifelong addiction.
Opiates work by binding to receptors on nerve cell membranes in the brain. This action blocks the proliferation of neurotransmitters that cause pain. Over time, increasing doses of opiates are required to achieve pain relief. Unfortunately, this can lead to addiction and the search for alternative illegal narcotics.
There are very few industries where one hundred percent of your employees will suffer a work-related injury. Professional sports are among those industries. High-velocity collision sports and combat sports athletes are particularly vulnerable.
Injuries move through acute and chronic phases. Acute injuries last days to weeks while chronic injuries last months to years. Many of the injuries seen in sports also require surgical intervention necessitating post-operative pain relief.
“Opiates play a helpful role in pain control immediately following acute injury and postoperatively,” states Dr. Jeffrey Anderson, Medical Director of UConn Student Health Services. “They don’t have a legitimate role in the management of chronic pain in the competitive athlete.”
Fortunately, there are many effective, non-addicting, medications designed for chronic pain. Many of these medications typically act on the brain for other conditions including epilepsy and depression.
The use of opiate analgesic medications must be offset by careful judgment and consideration of alternative medications.
Dr. Alessi is a neurologist in Norwich and serves as an on-air contributor for ESPN. He is director of UConn NeuroSport and can be reached at email@example.com