Yesterday, former U.S. soccer forward Abby Wambach released her memoir, “Forward,” in which she recaps her journey from the suburbs of Rochester, N.Y. to the University of Florida, to an international soccer career that saw her score more goals than anyone else in a national-team shirt.
The lead-up to her book-signing tour has led to a number of revelations.
One is that her marriage to her former teammate, Sarah Huffman, is headed towards divorce. Another is that she had abused alcohol at times during her playing career — albeit she made it clear yesterday that she wasn’t a drinker in her teenage years, and she didn’t take in alcohol during training for major tournaments.
But I think the revelation that will make the most impact on the national conversation going forward, I believe, is the fact that she was afforded too much of an opportunity to become addicted to powerful painkillers such as Vicodin and Percocet, as well as the sleep aid Ambien.
The addiction wasn’t necessarily of her own doing, because, as a professional athlete, she had access to medical personnel whose job it was to figure out the most expedient way to get players onto the field, no matter what.
Wambach, a physical target forward who would sell out her body to get the telling shot on goal, had her share of injuries over the years. She has numerous concussions, and once received a number of staples in her scalp in order to get her back on the pitch after a blow to the head in a World Cup qualifier in 2010 against Mexico.
But I the most severe injury Wambach had in her career was the broken leg that kept her out of the Beijing Olympics. She broke both the tibia and fibula in her left leg going for a loose ball in the box in the send-off match against China.
That’s the kind of injury that requires the long-term numbing of severe pain, and it requires that the patient get enough bed rest. Which, of course, leads to the prescription of powerful medications, including opioids.
Opioids are a very powerful class of drugs which came into being in the mid-1990s, and were marketed heavily by pharmaceutical companies to doctors, who, in turn, prescribed them to their patients because their metric for success was pain reduction.
The thing is, the drugs work, but at what cost? Given their addictive qualities, I can’t blame Wambach for having gotten hooked on them. As much of a superwoman as she has been on the soccer pitch, she is as human as the rest of us.
I think that tales such as hers, as well as others I have gotten to know over the years, brings forth a realization on the part of the medical community as a whole that we can’t numb our way to good overall health as a nation. And perhaps it’s time that addictive side effects are considered more carefully before medications are approved for sale or use.