The NFL’s Curious Drug Policy: How Painkillers Became An Acceptable Drug By Ryan Malley

If you have a back spasm, pop a pill, if you cannot make your cuts on your sprained ankle, pop a pill, if you are trying to get back to playing after shoulder surgery, maybe pop a few pills. But if you played Sunday night on the West Coast and then are playing Thursday night on the East Coast, and you are struggling to focus, that pill better not be Adderall.

All you have to do is turn on your television on Sundays in the Fall and you get to see the greatest athletes that the world has ever seen don armor that gladiators would be jealous of. Then these athletes run as hard as they can into each other for 60 minutes. There is no doubt football is an extremely physical sport. There is a reason that teams only play once a week. And to keep their bodies free from pain, the use of painkillers is a common occurrence in NFL locker rooms. Recently retired Detroit Lions Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson said, “the team doctors and trainers, they were giving them (pain killers) out like candy.”

If these NFL players continue to abuse to painkillers it can be extremely detrimental to their health. “Abuse can lead to kidney and liver failure, as well as increased risk of heart attack,” said Mindy Dioxy, an Assistant Athletic Trainer for NDNU.

What can be even more damaging is the continued abuse of painkillers by retires NFL players. A scientific study conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that retired NFL players misuse opioid pain medications at a rate more than four times that of the general population.

So why does the NFL have such a laissez-faire attitude towards painkillers, but will suspend a player who tests positive for Adderall?

The reason is that the NFL has labeled Adderall, the popular “study drug” for college students, as a performance enhancing drug (PED) as well as a drug of abuse. However, as stated the NFL does allow painkillers to help aid with a player’s ability to play through injury.

As of 2017, the NFL has determined that Adderall is a performance-enhancing drug. This means that by taking Adderall, your performance during games would be higher than if you did not take Adderall at all.  Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the NCAA have also enforced the same ruling.

As students, we may have an understanding of the NFL’s judgment on Adderall. The use of non-prescribed Adderall on college campuses can be a very common thing. According to the National Center for Health Research, a study of more than 10,000 college students from across the country found that more than half of students with an Adderall or other ADHD drug prescription were asked to sell the medication to peers and friends.

But if the NFL considers the use of Adderall to be cheating, what effects does Adderall have that would lead them to think this way? Dr Jessica DiVento who works in NDNU’s Health Services said, “For diagnosed patients with Attention Deficit Dissorder, Adderall can help them with their focus when they could otherwise not be able to do so.”

In the end, you can understand the NFL’s problem with the use of Adderall and other similar ADHD medication. Adderall has been seen as the NFL as a PED for its ability to aid in focus, which could give an unfair advantage to a player on the field. However, it brings up the question as to their ultimate motives when possibly harmful drugs like painkillers are encouraged and Adderall is not.

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