In a video released last week to New Jersey high school students, a U.S. women’s national soccer team legend and a starting wide receiver for the New York Jets team up to deliver a powerful warning about the risks associated with sports injuries and opioid use.
The 6-minute video, entitled “Athletes vs Opioids,” is a collaborative effort between the Office of the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (NJ CARES) and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) to fight addiction before it starts.
Student athletes across the state, and the parents of players under the age of 18, will be required to watch the video as a condition of participation in NJSIAA sports programs.
“No student athlete wakes up one morning and decides to become a heroin addict, but for far too many young players, taking pain medication for a sports injury is the first step down that harrowing path,” said Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. “Through this creative collaboration with NJSIAA we’ve found a way to speak directly to young athletes and encourage them to make smart choices if an injury occurs.”
In the video, NFL standout Quincy Enunwa and three-time Olympic champion and Women’s World Cup winner Heather O’Reilly offer students advice on dealing with sports injuries. The video also features former student athletes who courageously and candidly share their stories about becoming addicted to opioids prescribed to them to treat on-field injuries.
“When you consider that four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers, the importance of educating student athletes about the risk of addiction is clear,” said Sharon Joyce, director of NJ CARES. “Who better to deliver this important message to teens than the sports icons they look up to and peers they can relate to?”
“Sports offer tremendous benefits to student athletes, though the injuries that can be part of participation make them statistically more likely than non-athletes to be exposed to opioid painkillers,” says NJSIAA Executive Director Larry White. “So anything we can do to warn them of the danger is worthwhile, and I’m confident this video from the Office of the Attorney General will do that. It focuses on a frightening subject and is truly eye-opening.”
The video was created through an educational initiative announced last February by the high school sports oversight organization and NJ CARES.
The NJSIAA, which regulates high school athletics in 435 member schools, posted the “Athletes vs Opioids” video on its website and is strongly encouraging its 283,000 student athletes and their parents/guardians to watch it. Beginning with the 2019-2020 winter sports season, student athletes and parents/guardians of those under the age of 18 will be required to acknowledge that they have watched the video in order to participate in NJSIAA sports.
New Jersey law currently requires public school districts, approved private schools for students with disabilities, and nonpublic schools participating in an interscholastic sports program to distribute the Department of Education’s Opioid Use and Misuse Educational Fact sheet to all student-athletes and cheerleaders.
The fact sheet includes basic information on how students obtain opioids, signs of opioid use, preventing opioid use and misuse, and ways for athletes to reduce the risk of injury. General prevention resources are also provided.
The “Athletes vs Opioids” video, which also includes information from a medical doctor specializing in sports injuries and a message from Attorney General Grewal, reinforces and expands on the information provided in the fact sheet, emphasizing non-opioid alternatives to treating sports injuries; the need to make informed decisions before starting opioid treatment for a sports injury; and the importance of making return-to-play-decisions that focus on the student athlete’s health and reject the notion that a student athlete should play through pain.
NJ CARES is also a partner in the NJSIAA’s Stop Opioid Abuse Program (SOAP), an initiative focused on sharing drug abuse avoidance information with high school athletes. Launched in September 2016, SOAP also includes representatives from Garden State Pharmacy Owners, Inc., the New Jersey Prevention Network, and the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey.