Like many NFL players, Todd Herremans used opioids and other painkillers as a way of dealing with pain. He cites his marijuana use, though, as a reason why he didn’t become addicted to painkillers as many of his peers did.

Herremans joined fellow NFL veterans Marvin Washington, Eben Britton and Nate Jackson for a panel Friday at the 2017 World Medical Cannabis Conference & Expo at David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Herremans, Washington, Britton and Jackson are members of the non-profit Athletes For CARE, which is dedicated to raising awareness of issues that affect former pro athletes, including chronic pain, alternative medicine and health issues such as CTE.

“I love the NFL and everything that it’s done for me at this point,” Herremans said. “I’ll never say that I have any regrets, I don’t. The only thing I would like to change moving forward is making it a safer game with better alternatives for the players that are going to continue to play.”

Each of the four players have had experience with cannabis. Herremans, Britton and Jackson used the drug during their playing careers, and Washington is involved in several marijuana-related business ventures.

A regular cannabis user since college, Herremans would often turn to the drug as a way of mitigating the pain that comes with playing football.

He continued smoking marijuana after being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 2005, until he failed a drug test in his second season and was placed in a program for substance abuse for two seasons.

Giving up marijuana while he was in the program was a no-brainer. But suddenly the aches and bruises became tougher to deal with. It was as if his body was deteriorating.

Once he couldn’t use cannabis, he turned to painkillers.

“I go to the training room and I get opiates and anti-inflamatory’s and whatever else they’re slinging in there,” Herremans said.

It’s not their fault, it’s the only thing they’re allowed to give you. I don’t fault any of my trainers or doctors. Great friends with all of them. But it led to this point where I realized the hypocrisy that was going on in the NFL.”

An ESPN “Outside The Lines” study found that retired NFL players abuse opioid pain medications more than four times the rate of the general population. The NFL Players Association is pushing for a less punitive marijuana policy, as many NFL players use it as a potentially safer method of dealing with pain.

“The fact is, at the end of the day, if you’re not coming out every single day to produce 100 percent of your capability, they’re bringing in somebody to come in and take your job,” Britton said.

“So, that’s a tough environment where you have to do what you have to do to get out of that pain and be able to produce on the practice field throughout the week and on Sundays.”

The NFL and other major sports leagues are doing what they can to solve the issue, Washington said. But it’s not enough.

Through Athletes For CARE, the hope is that the organization can come halfway and help players who need assistance post-retirement.

“We want to fill that gap and we want athletes from every sport there is to come in and know that they can be part of a team, they can be educated,” Washington said.

“That transition is hard for some guys, and we can ease the transition.”

Source: Omari Sankofa II, Author at Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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