The Prescription Overdose Of NHL Player Derek Boogaard And The Plague Of Prescription Painkiller Addiction In Professional Sports
The following account of the overdose death and prescription painkiller abuse of NHL enforcer Derek Boogaard is excerpted and adapted from a New York Times article. Although the article has shocked the sporting community, it has not led to any significant changes. Is it actually shocking or has the article merely revealed how prevalent and common the abuse of prescription painkillers and other prescription drugs has become in professional sports? The article shows how teams and doctors, coaches and managers turned a blind eye when the season of a highly paid athlete was threatened by injury and money was on the line.
New York Times Derek Boogaard Exposé
“To see him have all that access to those doctors and all those prescriptions, that is mind boggling.”
— Dr. Louis Baxter Sr., the past president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine.
The clinical staff at ONE80CENTER is not surprised by the findings and facts that follow. What we do find surprising is that such prescription drug abuse made public has not raised an alarm that will lead to significant reforms and changes. Instead, a volley of denials and business as usual seems to still be the name of the game.
In his final three seasons playing in the National Hockey League, before dying last year at 28 of an accidental overdose of narcotic painkillers and alcohol, Derek Boogaard received more than 100 prescriptions for thousands of pills from more than a dozen team doctors for the Minnesota Wild and the Rangers.
“Derek was an addict,” Len Boogaard said about his son, “But why was he an addict? Everyone said he had ‘off-ice’ issues. No, it was hockey.” A trove of documents, compiled by Boogaard’s father offer a rare prescription-by-prescription history of the care given to a prominent, physically ailing athlete who struggled with addiction to some of the very drugs the team doctors were providing. The scores of prescriptions came before and after Boogaard’s entry into the league’s substance-abuse program in September 2009 for an addiction to painkillers and sleeping pills.
Among the findings:
1) In a six-month stretch from October 2008 to April 2009, while playing 51 games, Boogaard received at least 25 prescriptions for the painkillers hydrocodone or oxycodone, a total of 622 pills, from 10 doctors — eight team doctors of the Wild, an oral surgeon in Minneapolis and a doctor for another N.H.L. team.
2) In the fall of 2010, an official for the Rangers, Boogaard’s new team, was notified of Boogaard’s recurring abuse of narcotic pain pills. Nonetheless, a Rangers team dentist soon wrote the first of five prescriptions for hydrocodone after Boogaard sustained an injury.
3) Records reveal the ease with which Boogaard received prescription drugs, often shortly after sending a text message to a doctor’s cellphone and without notations made in team medical files.
The records raise questions for hockey and for professional sports across the board. Do team doctors communicate with one another about the care they are giving or the drugs they are prescribing? Do they demand to see a player before writing a new prescription? Are team medical records monitored and complete? How much information is shared among doctors, team officials and administrators of programs like the N.H.L.’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program? Can a hockey player, especially one paid to inflict and to absorb pain, continue a career with an addiction to painkillers? And what role does the league play in all this?
Derek Boogaard Prescription Painkiller Addiction
During a 26-day period in a single month while playing in Minnesota, Boogaard received prescriptions for 150 oxycodone (usually sold under brand names OxyContin or Percocet) and 70 hydrocodone pills from four doctors. “The problem with athletes is that they do get multiple injuries and therefore are given multiple courses of opiates,” said Dr. Ballantyne, a pain expert from the University of Washington. “A single course of opiates might be O.K. for normal people who only get injured once in a blue moon, but when injuries are frequent, it can easily turn into chronic treatment instead of just acute treatment. And athletes are at high risk of developing addiction because of their risk-taking personalities.”
At ONE80CENTER, the best way to affect change is by working from the top down. If the pop cultural and sporting celebrities express awareness of the prescription drug plague and the need to change, the overall effect will be impressive. It is hypocritical to tell young people not to abuse prescription drugs when their sporting heroes fail to walk that walk. If the tragedy of the overdose of Derek Boogaard can have a redemptive value, helping to initiate and put into action this realization could be it.