Football is a painful sport. Getting tackled by 200-300 pound defenders coming with the force of a car crash takes a serious toll on the body. Unsurprisingly, prescription pain killer abuse, a nationwide epidemic, is particularly prevalent among current and former players.
Team doctors commonly hand out pills to the team after a game, and long into retirement players struggle with addiction. According to research from the University of Louisville, over 52% of former NFL players use pain killers regularly, and 71% of those players admit to abusing or misusing the drugs. Former players are 4 times more likely to struggle with pill addiction than the general population. While it doesn’t get the coverage that other issues, like concussions and domestic violence, receive, it’s one of the biggest problems facing the league right now. And the players think the solution is in plain sight: medical marijuana.
ESPN recently conducted a survey on pain treatment in the league, asking various questions to 226 active players. 64% of players who responded said that they regularly take Toradol, an pain killing injection. The drug has serious side effects, and 60% of players are worried about the long term effects. 42% of players said that they or a teammate has become addicted to the painkillers, and 61% of players said that they would quit using them if marijuana were allowed as a substitute.
The widest margin by far was a response to the question “should the league allow the use of marijuana.” 71% of participants said that they should. Currently marijuana is one of 8 banned substances in the NFL rulebook. The rest are hard drugs and steroids.
27 states already have medical marijuana programs, and another 4 states have fully legalized the plant. More states are expected to vote to legalize either medical or recreational use of marijuana during the November elections. As more continue to do so, and prescription drug abuse continues to rise, the league may be forced to change their policy.