‘Don’t wait to seek help’, PFA urges members ahead of Tramadol ban

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The PFA are urging players worried about their use of Tramadol to get in contact ahead of the introduction of a ban on the powerful painkiller.

WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, recently announced that Tramadol will be added to its prohibited list. It has been on the doping agency’ watch list’ for a number of years whilst experts examined its use within sport.

The opiate painkiller, which is known to be used in football, is addictive and the PFA has been aware of members developing serious reliance and addiction issues through usage of Tramadol and other painkillers.

The new ruling on Tramadol will mean that the presence of Tramadol in an ‘in-competition’ doping control test could lead to the player receiving a lengthy ban.

WADA have announced that Tramadol will be added to the prohibited list from January 2024, a longer window than is usually allowed ahead of a ban being introduced, but one that reflects concerns around addiction and the need to consider player safety and wellbeing.

However, the PFA are encouraging players who might be concerned that they have developed a reliance or addiction to Tramadol and other powerful painkillers not to wait to seek help.

Ryan Cresswell, who made over 250 appearances for clubs including Bury, Rotherham, Southend and Northampton, recently spoke to the PFA about his own issues with painkiller addiction throughout his career.

He said:

“I had my first knee operation the day before my 17th birthday when I was a scholar. It was cartilage that needed repairing and that lasted for nine years. But once that went again, I was in pain. I took anti-inflammatories and painkillers to manage it. Not just paracetamol but codeine, co-codamol and tramadol. At one point I put a morphine patch on.

“It just completely numbed me. It’s not a good feeling to have. You don’t feel anything. It’s scary.

“It’s not normal to be taking eight or nine tablets a day and I realised I needed help.”

Asked what advice he would give to other who may be concerned about their use of Tramadol or other painkillers, he said:

“My advice to players is to speak to someone. If you have developed a reliance or an addiction, then stopping is a process where you will need help.

“You know if you’re taking too many. Reach out to someone. Pick the phone up and don’t be ashamed of it.”

PFA Director of Player Wellbeing Dr Michael Bennett, who made over 150 football league appearances for clubs including Charlton, Brentford and Brighton, also urged players to use the PFA’s wellbeing services if they think they may need support.

“We know there are players who have got into real difficulty with Tramadol usage. PFA members have approached us for help and there have been high-profile cases where Tramadol addiction has contributed to huge problems in the lives of players, both during and after their career in football.

“Tramadol usage is a player wellbeing issue. The delay in the introduction of a ban should provide an opportunity for the use of Tramadol to be properly assessed and safely phased out, whilst also providing a longer window for those who may have developed a reliance to seek the support they may need.

“There may well be a significant number of players who have not reached out for help, or who may not fully realise the extent of their reliance on Tramadol.

“Our message to players is that if you are worried you may have an issue with an addiction, don’t wait to ask for help.”

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