Time is right for painkiller Tramadol to be prohibited says RPA

Danny Cipriani called it a magic pill, but RPA General Secretary Christian Day says the time is right for addictive painkiller Tramadol to be prohibited.  

England fly-half Cipriani hit the headlines last month when he revealed that there were times during his rugby career when he was taking Tramadol, an opioid, most days in search of relief.  

He wrote in his book ‘Who am I?’ of a period in his playing career, saying: “I’m still taking Tramadol most days, partly for aches and pains but mostly to numb myself, give me a sense of relief, make me feel cocooned and safe.  

“It’s reached a point where I need Tramadol to feel free, but I also know, somewhere deep inside, that I can’t be medicating for the rest of my life.  

“When I do take Tramadol, it’s to numb the mind and body.”  

Cipriani is far from an isolated case, with the drug previously prescribed regularly to rugby players as pain relief. And Day, who spent a decade and a half playing in England’s top flight for Sale Sharks and Northampton Saints, knows exactly why the World Anti-Doping Agency has taken the step to ban the drug.  

Serving as a senior member on the Athlete Commission at UK Anti-Doping, Day is urging those within rugby to be aware of the new directive which will see Tramadol prohibited in-competition from January 1st, 2024.  

He believes it is a crucial step in ensuring athletes have access to a level playing field, while protecting their long-term health.  

“Most people’s perceptions of anti-doping are hardcore steroids, injecting and really quite dark practices,” said Day.  

“Whereas Tramadol is a drug that, during my career, was commonly used and prescribed by doctors because it is such an effective painkiller.  

“It’s an opioid, it’s addictive. It comes from the same family as heroin, and it can be an addictive substance.  

“It’s a very powerful painkiller with some potential health side effects if you use it for extended periods.  

“From my perspective as someone trying to represent the athletes, the risk lies in the fact that this was an accepted drug for so long.  

“It was a well-used drug for so long and as much as strides have been made in recent years to phase it out and move on to alternatives, I think the risk remains that some athletes may still be using it either via their doctor or by exterior means.”  

Cipriani’s case echoes that of former England footballer Chris Kirkland, who revealed last year that he was taking more than six times the recommended dose every day at the height of his Tramadol addiction.  

And as Day explains, the long-term effects of the drug, combined with its addictive nature, mean that the move from WADA was inevitable.  

“From what I understand, Chris’s was much more of that kind of addictive journey, where he was taking it so regularly and was so used to taking it, that it became a real issue to get off it,” said Day.  

“That’s quite a different challenge and that really does highlight the risk of this drug and that there are real reasons why it’s going to be prohibited.  

“It’s not good for long term health, there are implications around different bodily functions if you use it for extended periods of time.  

“Ultimately, the longer you use it and the higher the dosage, the harder it will be to stop using it – that’s why it’s been outlawed.”  

Act now on tramadol ban. UK Anti-Doping Athlete Commission call to athletes to stay aware of the impending ban on tramadol. 

(Image: Henry Browne/Action Images/Reuters via Beat Media Group subscription)

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