Student athletes cautioned on opioid medication

  • Dawn Lepere and her daughter, Jolie, 13, share their views before a video on athletes and opiods presented by the Northwestern District Attorney's Office, Tuesday at Amherst Regional High School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Dr. Ruth Potee, a family physician in Greenfield, narrates a video on athletes and opioids Tuesday at Amherst Regional High School. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Josh Vecchio, 14, shares his views after a video on athletes and opiods presented by the Northwestern District Attorney's Office, Tuesday at Amherst Regional High School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Laurie Loisel, who is the director of outreach and education for the Northwestern District Attorney's Office, speaks Tuesday prior to a video on athletes and opiods Tuesday at Amherst Regional High School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Wendy Hogans, left, standing beside her daughter, Olivia, 14, shares her views after a video on athletes and opioids presented by the Northwestern district attorney's office Tuesday at Amherst Regional High School. Below, Josh Vecchio, 14, shares his views on the video. GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Rich Ferro, who is the athletic director of Amherst Regional High School, speaks during a gathering of athletes and their parents Tuesday at Amherst Regional High School, prior to a video on athletes and opiods presented by the Northwestern District Attorney's Office. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Cenai Collins, 14, shares his views after a video on athletes and opiods presented by the Northwestern District Attorney's Office, Tuesday at Amherst Regional High School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Richard Hogans shares his views after a video on athletes and opiods presented by the Northwestern District Attorney's Office, Tuesday at Amherst Regional High School. —GAZETTE STAFF/JERREY ROBERTS

@StephMurr_Jour
Published: 8/23/2016 11:56:44 PM

AMHERST — A torn ligament, a broken bone — for many, prescription medications are the antidote for these pains.

But according to Greenfield addiction specialist Dr. Ruth Potee, opioid painkillers could do more to hurt than help student athletes with developing brains.

Some 250 students and their parents crowded into the Amherst Regional High School auditorium Tuesday night for a fall sports meeting, eager to chat with coaches and get a leg up on the season ahead.

The conversation swiftly turned serious when the school screened a 17-minute video, narrated by Potee, that highlights the risks of opioid addiction in student athletes. It’s a relevant conversation, the video stated, because one in six teens has abused prescription drugs, and 70 percent got them from a home, according to data from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“Sports is a way to become an active, fit person for the rest of your life. There’s no greater way to live a healthy life,” Potee said in the video. “I encourage you to keep doing that. Acknowledge the fact you’re at higher risk for injury, higher risk for developing exposure to an opioid and then possibly a misuse with that opioid.”

Potee explained that the adolescent brain, naturally prone to impulsive decision-making and susceptible to peer pressure, is hard at work developing until age 24. The brain establishes pathways through a process called myelination, Potee said, which determines which routes in the brain will be used frequently and which will be abandoned.

“Very critical things happen in brain development between the ages of 12 and 24,” Potee said in the video. “It’s an exciting time, it’s a time of great growth. It is a time where many things can go wrong.”

All addictions start during adolescence, Potee said, as the brain develops and encounters addictive substances. She advised athletes and their parents to look to other options before using prescription pills. Football and wrestling carry the highest risk for opioid exposure and subsequent addiction, Potee said.

“Look at the person whose pen is hovering above the prescription pad,” Potee said. “Empower yourself to ask them, ‘How do I protect my teen’s brain?’”

Potee suggested over-the-counter remedies like ibuprofen and acetaminophen. When used together, those drugs are often more effective than prescription pills, she said. Beyond medication, Potee touted rest, elevation, compression, stretching and even meditation as reliable relief methods.

Potee encouraged parents to keep prescription medications under lock and key, and properly dispose of them at drop-off locations such as pharmacies and police stations. She advised adults to administer pills rather than allow adolescents to be in control of their prescription medications.

Getting the word out

The video was presented by the Northwestern district attorney’s office in consultation with the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association. According to Laurie Loisel, director of community outreach and education for the district attorney’s office, the video is a way for Potee to share her message with students across Hampshire and Franklin counties.

“She’s this fabulous addiction specialist and she has a really engaging way of speaking,” Loisel said. “She is so sought after that she couldn’t go to them all, so we made this video to bring to all the schools.”

The video will be shown at high schools across the region in the next two weeks, including Easthampton, Belchertown and Northampton.

“Athletes, Opioids & Addiction” was produced by Searchlight Films, of Bernardston, and is viewable online by visiting the Northwestern district attorney’s office page on Vimeo. Loisel said her organization also encourages schools to post the video on their websites.

According to Loisel, the video was endorsed by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association and will be shown to student athletes across the state.

“The vast majority of people addicted to heroin started with opioids. And many of them got opioids from a friend, a relative or a medicine chest,” Loisel said. “It’s never too early to talk about this problem.”

Amherst Regional High School Athletic Director Rich Ferro said the video presentation is part of a larger effort to educate student athletes and their families about opioid addiction risks.

“If we can get an auditorium full of people to watch a 17-minute video and pass along more information, then we should do it,” Ferro said. “I think any information can benefit athletes and their families, especially considering how important it is.”

Ferro said he hopes the video provides basic information that student-athletes and their families can utilize when managing pain and injuries. According to Ferro, the school will host another event with Potee for a more in-depth conversation about substance abuse at 7 p.m. Sept. 22.

Ross Beck, the athletic trainer at Amherst Regional High School, said the video took up an important issue impacting youths.

“It was something I had in the back of my mind, and it’s something I’ll continue to think about,” Beck said.

Beck said he often suggests that student-athletes use heat, ice and stretching to treat their injuries before they turn to medication.

Josh Vecchio and Cenai Collins are 14-year-old freshman football players at Amherst Regional High School. The teens said they knew about the dangers of opioid abuse before watching the video Tuesday night, but found the points about brain development eye-opening. The teens added that they trust their coaches and teammates to help them make good decisions and manage injuries.

Wendy Hogans, an emergency room nurse at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, applauded the video. Hogans attended the event with her husband, Richard, and their daughter Olivia, 14, who will play volleyball this fall.

Richard Hogans is no stranger to athletics and injuries. A physical trainer and former football player and coach, he agreed the video was important for students and their parents to see.

“I loved the video,” Wendy Hogans said. “I see heroin addicts every single day, and I know how they got there.”




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