The Challenge of Drugs & Youth Sports

By Robert Weil, DPM

The link between drugs and sports runs deep! Drugs and sports have been connected for about as long as sports have been played. This includes the whole array of painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs both prescribed by doctors and available over the counter.

One of the concerns I’ve always had, especially at the elite and professional level, is that the physical and mental demands of sports all too often are extreme. This often leads to the use of pain meds and anti-inflammatories even in younger athletes to survive. This “routine use” is alarming! The acetaminophens and ibuprofens are too often overused to keep these young athletes “in the game.”

NOT SMART! Parents beware! Youth sports injuries – both acute and chronic – are at epidemic levels. We’ve got to pay real attention!

Are the schedules and physical demands we put on these kids often too much with not enough time for their growing bodies to recover? Too often the answer is yes. For the past 3-4 decades I’ve watched as college and professional athletes and even Olympians faced these challenges. Now, not much is different at the high school level, and especially for adolescent standouts in club and traveling sports, particularly those who specialize in a single sport.

One of the difficult realities in the world of medicine and sports is that these drugs work. Under proper medical supervision, medicines can be of real value. Problems arise when the drugs are used to replace proper rest and recovery. In past years, it soon became apparent to athletes, coaches, trainers (and parents) that drugs work. This soon led to rapid overuse and reliance on these drugs to shorten recovery time, dull pain and discomfort, and allow more intense workouts and training. BIG MISTAKE! We all know all too well these endless stories at the highest level of sports.

This scenario of course has filtered down to young athletes. Prescription pain medicines, such as opioids, which were often given for sports injuries and after surgery, have become a national epidemic nightmare. Seriously question your child’s doctors if they prescribe these. It is not unusual to recommend over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs for young athletes, but even these should always be accompanied by strict guidelines and instructions for short-term use. This is always combined with decreased intensity, frequency, and level of training or playing – what I call “Intelligent Rest.”

An important rule for parents and coaches is that if they are using these drugs for their youngsters to participate or stay in the game, they have CROSSED THE LINE! I can’t tell you how often I see this rule broken – especially when “the pressure to play is on.”

We are bombarded with TV ads about all sorts of over-the-counter and prescription pain and anti-inflammation drugs. The United States is one of only a few countries that allow this. It’s easy for one to be fooled into thinking that all these drugs are without side effects or consequences and that is simply not true. Get educated!

Besides the drugs themselves, the whole world of sports supplements and energy drinks are also of concern because children and adolescent bodies are still growing and developing. As a rule, most experts do not recommend these supplements under 18 yrs of age. Again, the reality is that it’s all too common for high school and even younger athletes to be using these easily obtainable products to try and “get an edge” over their teammates and rivals.

Parents should always check with their doctors or dietitians before allowing the routine use of any sports drinks that contain high amounts of caffeine, which can be potentially dangerous for some kids. Sports doctors and pediatricians alike have been alarmed by the number of heart and high blood pressure problems that can be caffeine-related.

Let’s not fool ourselves with this very important challenge of drugs and youth sports. It’s everywhere! Because youth sports is such big business and injuries are of epidemic proportions, it stands to reason that all sorts of demands and problems are right there with them. Physical and mental pressures seem to be always increasing for our young athletes, so parents and coaches need to pay attention and listen to and observe their young kids and players. Awareness and education are always the keys.

Dr. Bob Weil is a sports podiatrist in private practice in Aurora, Illinois. He hosts “The Sports Doctor,” a live weekly radio show on For more information, go to

There are many tough decisions now for parents whose children want to participate in sports: how to choose the right program, how to help coach them, preventing injuries.


Dr. Robert Weil, an original New Yorker with an office in Aurora, IL, is a sports podiatrist that has helped many elite athletes and hosts the radio show “The Sports Doctor”. His co- author Sharkie Zartman, is a former All-American volleyball player and former member of the U.S. National team. They have combined their expertise into one book designed to help parents navigate through youth sports programs.


#Hey Sports Parents is broken down in four Sections. The first section written by Sharkie, is Sports Parenting 101 which includes choosing the right program, nutritional guidelines, college recruiting and stress management.


“In the next section,” says Dr. Bob, “called The Sports Doctor Is In, I talk about overtraining, sports and drugs, the importance of the right shoes and orthotics, and the very real risks of contact football for kids. The third and fourth section highlight various experts in youth sports
and parenting.


Dr. Bob and Sharkie met years ago when they both hosted shows for the same radio network. “We thought this book would be a great resource because of our different professional perspectives” says Sharkie.


You can find #Hey Sports Parents on Amazon, Kindle, and Ingram.


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