EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ With the widespread use of prescription medication abuse among high school athletes making waves across the country, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) released “multiple landmark recommendations” to its’ members on Monday, according to a NJSIAA press release.

The NJSIAA Medical Advisory Committee, which consists of administrators from member schools and medical/healthcare professionals, recommended nine protocol changes to combat the crisis.

“When it comes to our nation’s young people, this is about as serious as a problem can get,” Steve Timko, executive director of the NJSIAA, said. “Lives are being ruined – and in many cases ended – at an unprecedented rate. As an organization dedicated to the well-being of student-athletes, the NJSIAA is taking a proactive role in addressing what amounts to an outright crisis.”

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Of the nine NJSIAA recommendations, seven have been directed towards physicians who treat student-athletes.

According to the committee:

§  Physicians should exercise extreme caution whenever considering opioid prescriptions for student-athletes.

§  In terms of prescriptions, the first option should be such non-narcotic alternatives as acetaminophen, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, salicylates, and non-medication treatments like cryotherapy and transcutaneous electric nerve stimulation.  

§  If opioids are prescribed, it should only be for acute injuries resulting in severe pain – and only for one week at a time, with no automatic refills.

§  All opioid prescriptions should be accompanied with detailed information on use, including specific warnings about abuse and addiction risks.

§  Opioid prescriptions should never be given directly to student-athletes, and should never be administered in an unsupervised manner.

§  Treating physicians and/or parents/guardians should notify the school nurse and/or athletic trainer about all opioid prescriptions.

§  Treating physicians should utilize a “contract” – to establish boundaries and behaviors – whenever prescribing opioids to student athletes.

§  Every school district needs to develop a specific, detailed policy addressing this issue.

§  School districts should implement drug monitoring programs, with an emphasis on identifying students who seem to exhibit signs of opioid abuse.

Over the years, administrators at the East Brunswick Public Schools have worked to create avenues of education and testing to prevent drug abuse of all kinds.  Athletic Director Christopher Yannazzo notes that all East Brunswick students who participate in athletics are given a packet of guidelines for safety.  (Pages 10-13 outline the anti-drug and random testing program.) Yannazzo notes that the guidelines have been published, reviewed, revised, and followed over the years as part of the East Brunswick Schools' desire for "safe programs, safe play, and safe students."

The NJSIAA directive also coordinates with the anti-opiate initiatives being put in place by the East Brunswick Police Department's Community Policing Division, led by patrolman Craig Hoover.

According to the NJSIAA’s press release, narcotic painkillers are the most commonly abused medications, including Vicodin, Percocet and OxyContin. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence said 12 percent of male student-athletes and 8 percent of female student-athletes have been given some form of an opioid class narcotic by a physician in the past year.

Other studies show that a large percentage of current heroin users began their addiction with opioid-based prescription drugs.

“Studies indicate that about 80 percent of heroin users started out by abusing narcotic painkillers,” says advisory committee chair John P. Kripsak, D.O. “That statistic makes it frighteningly clear what the stakes are in this battle. It’s an emergency now, and there’s no doubt we need to implement new strategies in our schools to turn the tide.”

Additional details on the prescription drug epidemic are available online at www.state.nj.us/sci/pdf/PillsReport.pdf, in the form of a New Jersey State Commission of Investigation report.