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Retired NFL Players Continue Opioid Use And Suffer Depression, UF Study Shows

"Canton, Ohio, USA - July 18, 2011: Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Built in 1963."
"Canton, Ohio, USA - July 18, 2011: Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. Built in 1963."

Nearly half of former National Football League players who used opioids in 2010 continue to use them today, and nearly 60 percent of them experience moderate to severe depressive symptoms, a University of Florida study shows.

Published in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the study examined the long-term effects of opioid use in retired NFL players.

The study is based on phone interviews with 90 former NFL athletes who had participated in a 2010 study -- also conducted by the university’s College of Public Health and Health Professions -- on opioid use.

For the new study, researchers asked players to answer questions about their former careers, body aches and pains, mental health and levels of substance use.

“This study provides relevant findings to assist these initiatives and the health care providers of retired NFL athletes,” lead researcher Zachary Mannes said in a prepared statement. “Though the modest sample size limits generalizability of findings, these results support the need for team medical staff and medical professionals working with retired NFL athletes to assess and monitor opioid use, as well as refer for appropriate behavioral health treatment if needed.

“Moreover, alternative pain management strategies should be considered, particularly exercise, physical rehabilitation and psychotherapeutic methods.”

The NFL and the NFL Players Association in 2019 signed an agreement that required each team to develop team-specific mental health emergency action plans and required all teams to retain behavioral health clinicians.

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