HAMILTON, NJ - High School student-athletes could benefit from a new statewide program geared toward preventing opioid abuse.

On Wednesday, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) and the Garden State Pharmacy Owners (GSPO) announced a joint effort to help prevent opioid abuse with the formation of SOAP - the Stop Opioid Abuse Program.

"Students who participate in high school sports are particularly vulnerable to abusing powerful painkillers, because injuries sustained during competition often lead to an opioid prescription," according to a report from the NJSIAA.

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SOAP – will regularly share student-focused materials with public, private, and parochial high schools across New Jersey. Each school may then determine how best to distribute the information to its athletes, as well as to coaches and trainers.

"We are pleased to hear about the partnership between the GSPO and NJSIAA," Bill Librera, Chatham High assistant principal, said.  "The combined efforts of these organizations will create a greater chance to have a positive effect on opioid awareness and abuse."

Some of the informational materials provided, both in online and printed form, will be provided by the Partnership for a Drug Free New Jersey(PDFNJ).

“As pharmacy owners, our members are well aware of the impact opioid abuse is having in our state and around the country,” Marty Miller, GSPO’s executive director, said. “Our organization felt compelled to do something to address this terrible situation, and our unwavering commitment to our communities – coupled with support from both the NJSIAA and the Partnership – gives us a platform to communicate effectively with a seriously at-risk population, high school athletes.”

Other components of the SOAP initiative will include additional community outreach, regular updates to and interaction with state legislators and drug manufacturers, plus volunteer efforts by GSPO members.

“Given our mission to serve and protect student-athletes, we’re enthusiastic about any program that may curtail the likelihood of opioid abuse,” Steve Timko, executive director of the NJSIAA, said. “Certainly, the idea of using NJSIAA’s extensive communication network to reach New Jersey’s student-athletes was extremely well conceived.”

According to the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, student-athletes who used prescription pain killers while in high school are at a higher risk for opioid abuse in the future.

“With the misuse of opioids becoming an increasingly serious problem among high school students, who are at a 33 percent greater risk of future opioid misuse if they are prescribed opioids before high school graduation, SOAP provides an excellent opportunity to deliver critical, life-saving information to student athletes, parents, coaches and trainers,” PDFNJ Executive Director Angelo Valente said. “The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey lauds the leadership of the GSPO and NJSIAA in initiating outreach to students potentially more vulnerable to opioid misuse.”