I’ve written about the abuse of prescription pills in pro hockey in the past, specifically about how their distribution needs to be better monitored. Right now if players want them, they can get them, and with the pain of the game and the rigors of travel, plenty of guys do. Never have I been more sure that something has to be done then after reading what Derek Boogaard’s father discovered about what had been prescribed to his son over the years.

Before I list the numbers, a simple point: it’s not solely the doctor’s responsibility to monitor the amount of pills players are swallowing - players have to be accountable for themselves as well. Though some guys are (as Boogaard seemed to be), not everyone is a victim of the system.

There’s just no way it should be possible for one person to acquire this many drugs from this many sources:

From the New York Times excellent feature on Boogaard, and his Dad’s work:

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.


* 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.

* 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 for Boogaard after he sustained an injury.

* Another Rangers doctor, although aware that Boogaard also had been addicted to sleeping pills in the past, wrote nearly 10 prescriptions for Ambien during Boogaard’s lone season with the team.

What blows me away more than anything about those numbers is the ”10 doctors in six months” part. I’ve played on teams with a team doctor. I’ve seen 2-3 in certain training rooms. I know there are some specialists you deal with over the course of a career. But 10 and these people don’t communicate at all about what’s being prescribed to their patient, a guy who’s supposed to be a pro athlete, a finely tuned machine? It’s an absolute sin. (None of that addresses the blatant disregard for a guy with a problem, but I’m not looking at Boogaard’s situation as a stand-alone event here.)

Shady doctors aren’t everywhere in pro hockey, but they exist. I’ve heard of guys texting their team doctor, who would in turn call in a prescription and have pills ready to go for them at CVS in an hour. “What do you need, sleeping pills, pain pills, muscle relaxers….would you like fries with that?” As in all lines of work, some folks are just ethically questionable, and they always will be – being smart enough to become a doctor has little bearing on that. That fact is precisely why there needs to be some sort of official system in place so those people don’t go messing everything up for the rest of us.

For one, necessary prescribed pills could be doled out to players out on a daily basis at the rink. The doctors write the scripts, fill them, bring them to your dressing room, and say “Here’s your three for the day.” For another, if you’re going to have 1000 doctors, each player should have medical files on hand that doctors need to update every time they prescribe anything so they could see “Hey look, Dr. Percy prescribed him 30 pills yesterday, he doesn’t need any more.”

I realize these ideas aren’t flawless (as I said, guys may get them regardless, but let’s at least make it more difficult), but they’re ideas. We need to get moving in the right direction.

Boogaard’s story is terrible and sad, but if it could be the catalyst for some positive change that exposes less players to ridiculous amounts of pills that they don’t need, then at least it could have been for something. Though that may be small consolation for the Boogaard family, maybe it could save another family from feeling the same pain.

If we do nothing, the problem isn’t going to go away on it’s own, it’s only going to get worse. R.I.P., Boogeyman.

Comments (5)

  1. Great insight, as usual. I look at this story the same way I do concussions – expecting the League to be the driving force behind improvements in prevention and treatment is not going to work. Until the NHLPA and the players themselves stand up and demand better for its members and themselves, the “business” of sport will trump the well-being of the players.

    This is not rocket science. Its not that hard to counter the conflicts that contribute to these problems. You have an independent panel of medical providers across the country, approved by both the NHL and the NHLPA. You don’t let teams find their own medical providers, who, sadly, often care as much about being able to market their “team physician” status as they do about the players they treat. You require player medical information be stored in a centralized EHR to make sure information is available timely to the providers in question. Blahblahblah.

    I represent hospitals and medical providers in my boring, day-to-day work life. I see this crap every day. The depth of the rot in the US health care system goes so deep, its almost impossible to find out where to start wiping it up.

  2. Great article Justin. So many many stories out there. We could go on and on.

  3. Once again, it’s valuable to obtain perspective (limited, in this context, but still) about what typically goes down when guys get hurt or need medical treatment from someone like yourself who has participated in the pro hockey system. Your outrage is evident and moving, and I hope others in your circle and who are part of your community will become sufficiently upset to mobilize and figure out a way to prevent this from happening again. With the combine reports upon us and the draft just around the corner, we are reminded that the next big class of superstars is about to make its grand entrance. Do we really want to continue to put guys at risk by not doing anything about this? I wonder about how to safeguard their careers, but I’m more concerned about protecting them from self-destruction – even if it means protecting them from themselves sometimes.

    The Watergate-like secrecy surrounding the officially-sanctioned NHL/NHLPA subtance abuse program has to be busted, plain and simple. They are clearly using patient confidentiality as a smokescreen for not having to answer for or detail any of their work, and the result is they look like they’ve got an awful lot to hide. I have been asking the same question from the beginning: What exactly do they do and how do they accomplish it? We don’t need to know names and numbers. Why the refusal to outline what the program is, who runs it and how it works? It doesn’t make sense.

    Perhaps most of all, what this latest chapter illustrates for me is how utterly tragic and cruel it is that of all people, Boogaard’s father – his FATHER – has to play detective and go to such extraordinary lengths to piece together what happened to his son. It shouldn’t be that difficult to get answers if you’re a grieving parent. It’s horribly, horribly cruel and although it must provide a measure of closure for Mr. Boogaard, I can’t imagine how excruciating this process has been for him and his family. My heart goes out to him, and I admire him for taking steps to ensure that other parents never have to go through this. If the courts can be utilized to mandate more transparency and accountability within the system, then it’s well worth going that route. But one hopes that the hockey community will be the energy behind reform, and will demand necessary changes before it happens again.

  4. Great article Justin. This is definitely one of hockey’s dirty little secrets, and it’s shocking more people aren’t taking this seriously. While perhaps not flawless, your ideas certainly make a lot of sense to me. Unfortunately I think this will only come about from within the players – I can’t imagine a ton of teams jumping to take the lead on regulating this too carefully – but I’m not sure if that will happen anytime soon, given how prevalent/accepted prescription drug abuse seems to be. Hopefully the more people like yourself that publicize it, though, the more momentum there will be for an intervention.

  5. A worrying thing going on in international football (soccer) regarding extensive use on painkillers:

    Is pain medication in sport a form of legal doping?

    Fifa alarmed at widespread ‘abuse’ of painkillers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *