LONDON - Fifa’s chief medical officer has said the “abuse” of painkillers is putting the careers and long-term health of international footballers in jeopardy.
Dr Jiri Dvorak found that almost 40% of players at the 2010 World Cup were taking pain medication prior to every game.
Ahead of Euro 2012, Dr Dvorak has urged football to wake up to the problem.
He told the BBC that younger players are imitating the seniors and taking painkillers far too frequently.
Fifa’s medical team asked team doctors to provide a list of medications that players were taking ahead of each game in the 2010 World Cup.
Previous surveys at international tournaments established that many players were using large numbers of pain killing and non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (nsaids).
But the results from South Africa 2010, published recently in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, show higher levels of use than ever before.
Thirty-nine percent of all players took a painkilling agent before every game.
There were huge differences between countries with some teams doling out over three medications per player per game.
Teams from North and South America had the highest reported use of medications per match and per player.
“I think we can use the word abuse - because the dimension is just too much,” Dr Dvorak told the BBC.
“Unfortunately, there is the trend to increase the intake of medication. It is something that we have to really take seriously and ask what is behind it?”
Experts say that painkilling medication can be particularly dangerous in professional sport. In high-intensity exercise like football, a player’s kidneys are continuously working hard, making them more vulnerable to damage from strong drugs.
Dr Dvorak believes that a major factor in the growing use of painkillers in football is the pressure on team doctors to get injured players back on the pitch quickly.
“The team doctors, most of them they are under pressure between the diagnosis and the appropriate treatment between the pressure to bring the player on the pitch, if they take them too long out they might be out of a job.”
Former German international player Jens Nowotny knows from his own experience that there is pressure on everyone.
“It’s hard when someone from the club comes and says it’s important that you play and the team and the club needs you - it’s your decision but the pressure from people around - you can’t ignore it.
“And the doctors are under pressure too.”
Other scientists agree that the Fifa research is concern.
Dr Hans Geyer, deputy director of the Wada (World Anti-Doping Agency) accredited anti-doping laboratory in Cologne, said: “This is an alarming signal. We have co-operated with Fifa also in this field and we can confirm their data.”
“What we have seen from the Fifa studies is that often athletes take the pain killers as a preventive. They take them to prevent a pain which may occur, to be totally insensitive.