The National Football League (NFL) has been buffeted by the health controversies for the last few years. In 2014, the horrors of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) were first brought to the public’s attention in the form of a Boston University study. That athletes who suffered multiple concussions were at increased risk of cognitive impairment was known before this study, but the extent and pervasiveness of the problem was underestimated.
CNN reports that the NFL is now the focus of a lawsuit concerning their “reckless” use of opioid painkillers. These prescription drugs are extremely addictive and are a scourge that is killing thousands annually. The NFL lawsuit centers on informed consent and whether the players were cautioned about the dangers posed by these powerful pharmaceuticals.
The lawsuit against the NFL alleges incidents where unlabeled pills, Percocet and Motrin, were distributed to players in unmarked envelopes. The physical toll inflicted on footballs players and the influential role that team doctors play in their lives may make them uniquely susceptible to the dangers of opioids, but statistically they represent just the tip of the addiction iceberg.
It is not just NFL doctors passing out these pills like candy to injured players. In Alabama, which has the highest opioid prescription rate in the U.S., there are 143 prescriptions for every 100 people. Clearly, doctors bear a significant responsibility for creating this situation.
The extent of the addiction crisis is staggering. In 2015, there were more opioid users than smokers in America, a total of 27 million. Native Americans and Caucasians have the highest rate of death from opioids: 8.4 and 7.9 per 100,000 people. African Americans and Latinos have a death rate of 3.3 and 2.2 per 100,000. Addiction to opioids and heroin is costing the U.S. more than $193 billion each year.
It is inevitable that there is blowback for the overuse of opioid painkillers and it is no longer possible to ignore a calamity that has ruined and ended so many lives. Studies show that addiction ends up affecting over a quarter of those who use opioids for chronic non-cancer pain. Worse, 1 in 550 patients on opioid therapy dies from opioid-related causes within 2.5 years of their first prescription.
Perhaps this NFL lawsuit will help shed additional light on the dangers of powerful painkillers and the potential alternatives to these extremely dangerous drugs. That there is a huge problem has been acknowledged but to date the response has not been commensurate with the scope of the catastrophe. We need big pharma to acknowledge how dangerous their products are and make a point of minimizing their use. Natural and safer alternatives need to be promoted.
The most controversial and promising of these is medical cannabis. Medical marijuana has a long history as a natural analgesic. Its medicinal qualities are due to high amounts of cannabidiol (CBD), medicinal terpenes and flavonoids. Varieties of cannabis exist that are very low in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — the psychoactive component of marijuana that makes you feel “stoned” — and high in medicinal CBD.