With the help of professional athletes, and recovering addicts who can trace their dark journey back to one bad decision, the state of New Jersey and the organization that regulates high school sports in the state have released a video aimed at reducing the odds of student athletes getting hooked on opioids.

Starting with the 2019-2020 winter sports season, these athletes — and the guardians of those under age 18 — will be required to watch the video in order to participate in a sports program.

"No student athlete wakes up one morning and decides to become a heroin addict, but for far too many young players, taking pain medication for a sports injury is the first step down that harrowing path," said Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, who opens the six-minute video that's been posted on YouTube and the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association website.

The video, entitled Athletes vs Opioids, is a collaborative effort between NJSIAA and The Office of the New Jersey Coordinator for Addiction Responses and Enforcement Strategies (NJ CARES).

There were over 3,100 drug-related deaths in New Jersey in 2018; most were caused by heroin or the dangerous synthetic opioid fentanyl.

"When you consider that four in five new heroin users started out misusing prescription painkillers, the importance of educating student athletes about the risk of addiction is clear," said NJ Cares Director Sharon Joyce. "Who better to deliver this important message to teens than the sports icons they look up to and peers they can relate to?"

New York Jets wide receiver Quincy Enunwa, whose short career has been riddled with injuries — he's currently down for the season due to a neck injury — and Women's World Cup winner Heather O'Reilly are featured in the video, offering advice on how to handle injuries without the use of prescription pills.

"It truly is not worth it; your long-term health and well being is so much more important," O'Reilly says in the video.

"Athletes in recovery" Matt and Keelin shared their stories about becoming addicted to opioids that were prescribed to them to treat on-field injuries.

Current law requires that schools participating in an interscholastic sports program distribute an opioid use and misuse fact sheet to all student-athletes and cheerleaders.

With the new requirement, student athletes or parents will have to acknowledge they've watched the video.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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