Former professional football player tackles dangers of opioids

An estimated 44 people die each day in the U.S. from prescription opioid overdoses, with more than 80 percent of cases classified as accidental. Former professional football player Mike “A-Train” Alstott, who has been prescribed opioids but was never addicted, is determined to help lower that number through the America Starts Talking campaign.

Alstott, who played eight years of football even before reaching high school, and an additional 12 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, said he knew the dangers of injury associated with playing the sport from watching his older brother and being around the game for many years. However, it wasn’t until his playing career at Purdue University that he was exposed to prescription opioids and painkillers.

“My experience is unique and unusual,” Alstott told “I had some great trainers and physicians who explained it and how to take it and safe use of [the drugs]. They guided us.”

Alstott knows not every athlete or average patient prescribed these medicines is as fortunate. While he recognizes that opioids play an important role in managing pain and helping people to function in their everyday life, he sees a need for more education to help prevent accidental overdoses.

“I think just in general [that] opioids, pain killers, pain medication are important for not just football players, but a lot of people to manage their life,” Alstott said. “That was the case for me, specifically with football, to be able to help manage the pain and get back out of the field.”

Part of Alstott’s role with America Starts Talking includes directing people to the website to help educate themselves on how to respond to an opioid-related emergency. He said many times during an accidental overdose, patients may be taking opioids as directed but aren’t aware of the dangers of mixing them with another medication.

The website offers users quick facts and tips on safe use of opioids, as well as challenge quizzes, videos and discussion tools. The campaign is sponsored by Kaleo in partnership with national patient and professional organizations dedicated to improving the lives of those taking opioids to manage pain.

“I’m a part of this campaign to make people aware that it can happen to anyone, anytime, even if you’re taking as directed from your doctor,” he said. “This is not just including football players, it isn’t just including the normal people, this campaign is for everyone to be aware and be able to respond if there is an opioid emergency.”

Alstott is currently a high school football coach, and said he delivers the message of opioid safety to both his players and three children. He said that while parents may manage the medication that their children are taking, it is important to bring kids into the conversation so that they know the dangers from early on.

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