Opioid Crisis in Sports

Opioid Crisis in Sports

On July 13th, 1991, Debbie and Darrell Skaggs gave birth to their son Tyler. As they looked into his eyes, and saw the light of his future, there was no inkling of thought as to what would happen almost 28-years later. They would marvel at their son as over time he evolved into a star athlete, and eventually became a professional pitcher in Major League Baseball. They would look upon him with pride and happiness, knowing their son accomplished his dream. However, neither ever imagined receiving the phone call they received on July 1st, 2019. Their son Tyler was found unresponsive, and in seconds their entire lives would change forever.

When the passing of Tyler Skaggs was confirmed, it was a painful day in baseball. A bright, young, 27-Year old pitcher was taken from the game far too soon. Although there were folks who had a theory of Opioids being involved, there was little evidence at the time. A couple months later, when the autopsy was revealed, tragedy struck. Fentanyl and Oxycodone were indeed detected in his system, as well as alcohol. Due to the body being unable to process these chemicals, in attempt to combat it, Tyler would choke to death on his own vomit.

Though tragic, due to the nature of his death, there was also an immediate divide among baseball fans. Some would say “he was stupid for taking so much at once.” Others responded with empathy, stating he “did not mean to get addicted, and that it just happened by mistake.” Regardless of what side of the aisle you fall upon, one thing is evident in sports: Opioids are becoming a major problem, and it’s time the Sports World does something about it.

Before we dive into the nature of addiction, one must first understand the magnitude drugs has on the brain. If you believe addiction is choice, that is an opinion you have and it should be respected. However, science does disprove the theory, as addiction is classified as a brain disease. Sure, the choice to take the first pill or drink is choice, but the chemical reaction that takes place afterwards is purely unorthodox to anything else. Often times, those who find themselves addicted to Opioids were often given the drugs as a prescription to begin with. What takes place afterwards is not always their fault. This is the harsh reality that exists with addiction.

There is a also a difference between Opiates, and Opioids. Opiates are a natural pain reliever that stems from the Poppy Plant (Morphine, Codeine). Opiates assist in eliminating pain by blocking the pain signal in the brain, or altering how a person perceives it. An Opioid is a Synthetically designed chemical that gives the user a euphoric sense of well-being (Oxycodone, Fentanyl). In essence, Opiates help alleviate the pain, Opioids trick the user into thinking they don’t have pain. As a result, the “high” that is manifested while taking an Opioid is where the dependency problem comes into play.

With that, there is no denying that there is a Crisis in America with Opioids. Here are some numbers that have been updated as of January 2019:


As you can see from the numbers above, there is a staggering number of individuals who’ve been given a prescription of Opioids. Due to the chemical reaction the brain has with the drug itself, many people find themselves addicted to it before they have a chance to realize it. This is the true nature of Opioids, and consumers often feel the side-affects without a secondary option for treatment. As a result, the rabbit hole of addiction is often one nobody chooses to jump down. They become victims to a lifestyle they never intended to stumble across in the first place. This is a epidemic, and it happens to individuals every single day across the world.

Jose Fernandez, Josh Hamilton, Tyler Skaggs, Josh Gordon – those are just some names that come to mind when I think about addiction in sports. What happens to a person who tears an ACL and is given months worth of Opioids access? What happens when they stop taking them? Though they may attempt to live a life without the Opioids, the “high” they felt becomes so desirable that they’ll do anything to feel it again. Sadly, the individual who’s now addicted doesn’t even process what they’re doing as dangerous. Sometimes the best people become victims to a state of mind they never wanted to have in the first place. But the fact of the matter is this:

Almost everyone has been impacted by addiction – whether it be personally or by witnessing. We all have seen the negative impact addiction can have on our lives, and the lives of friends and family members as well. It’s a tragic sight, and those of us who’ve sat at the funerals of loved ones are ready for a change.

So what other options are out there? There is absolutely no denying that in sports the body goes through so much physical stress that the demand for pain relief is evident. But with the Pharmaceutical Companies having such a hold on medications, is there a possibility of an alternate option even being available?

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Photo credit: Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP

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