It’s a story heard all too often. After suffering a debilitating and potentially career-altering injury, an athlete sees a doctor to get something to facilitate recovery. The doctor, given their limited options, prescribes opioids to help combat the pain. At first, the painkillers do the trick, allowing the player to recover. But over time, the pain returns, and rather than treating the root cause of it, the prescribed dosage increases. Chronic pain leads to dependency which turns into an addiction with long-term consequences lasting well after the player’s career comes to an end.
Former NHLer Derek Boogaard was one of many who suffered this fate. It began after an in-game fight that led to a broken tooth. He was prescribed painkillers and inadvertently became addicted. In the first month of his injury, he took 165 pills. Only a few weeks later, he approached an opposing team’s doctor in order to renew his prescription. Eventually, Boogaard died of an Oxycodone overdose.
So, if we know that opioids can jump-start this horrifying and vicious cycle, why are we so reluctant to consider the obvious alternative?
States where medical marijuana has been legalized report up to a 25 percent decrease in opioid-related deaths. There’s also never been a death due to a medicinal marijuana overdose, while an average of 115 Americans die from opioid overdoses every day. And yet, opioids continue to be the prescription drug of choice. While the general public might be relatively powerless to make a change in policy in the face of the pharmaceutical lobby, you’d think professional leagues sports leagues that value athletic performance over all else would make a push for change.
If only it was that simple.
For a myriad of reasons, medicinal cannabis is banned throughout the majority of pro sports, with some leagues treating offenders as severely as they do steroid abusers. One such league is the NBA, which put its original drug ban place in 1983. Part of this policy of prohibition can be attributed to the murky legal status a lifting of the ban would create, since only twenty-nine states permit medical cannabis use, while 21 states still prohibit it. Teams and players could face challenges and disruptions in their recovery, especially since they regularly cross state lines. But while that might explain the league’s reluctance to lift the ban today, it doesn’t justify the original reasons for prohibition, which seem to be much less logical and more sinister in their intent.