NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — In his crutches, freshman Cole McDowell is forced to sit out of a sport he's loved for many years.
The 18-year-old will undergo months of rehab after he badly injured his foot and leg during the first five minutes of his first game as a Middle Tennessee State University hockey player. The injuries were serious enough that he said he was prescribed hydrocodone and then percocet.
"I take it day-by-day if it helps my pain a little bit but I don't need it to completely take it away because I don't want to be dependent on them," McDowell told NewsChannel 5.
McDowell describes using the opioids as a cautionary process since he knows drug addiction runs in his family. Almost this time last year, opioid abuse claimed the life of his mother.
"I know the dangers and destruction that it leads with the beginning of opioids," McDowell said. "I don't want to be added to the list."
Being aware of the dangers is exactly what Dr. Tyler Barrett of Vanderbilt University Medical Center stresses to other athletes. He knows there are cases when opiates are necessary, but urges athletes to follow precise directions from their doctor, take as few of them as possible and dispose when they're no longer used.
Dr. Barrett is also an emergency physician for the Nashville Predators and the Nashville Youth Hockey League vice president. As a father of a teen hockey player, he spent the past 15 months speaking to athletes like hockey players and their parents about the risks of misusing opiates. Barrett teamed up with USA Hockey to help educate. He said usning non-opioid medication like ibuprofen and Tylenol treat inflammation, which typically causes the pain.
USA Hockey cites that a Michigan study of 21,000 high school seniors across 16 sports found that ice hockey players had substantially greater odds of heroin use and non-medical use of prescription opioids in the past year.
Barrett doesn't know the exact reason but suspects since hockey is so competitive outside of high schools, pills may be the easier option to get back on the ice.
"When they looked at the different sports, ice hockey came out to about a three folds increased odds compared to the other sports," Barrett said.
Barrett spoke to roughly 700 athletes and parents within the last year. He stressed that the lesson applies to not just hockey players but to all athletes. Recent statistics show 1 in 5 teens report abusing prescription medications to get high, and 2 in 5 teens believe that prescription medications are “much safer” than illegal drugs.