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Drugs, Doctors and the NHL: Derek Boogaard’s Descent into Addiction

June 20th, 2012 at 8:43 AM
By Matthew Heimlich

Some addicts are not born. They are created. This is especially true among athletes. Ask Josh Hamilton, who developed a powerful drug addiction in the minor leagues, which began after he was put on prescription pain medication after a serious injury. The physical toll that professional athletes put on themselves, the constant injuries, the time away from their job, the money, the privilege, all of it contributes. Athletes are born risk takers. They trained their entire lives to push their body to the limit. Sometimes they push it too far.

Most of the time, when a player has substance abuse issues, it is generally seen as an “off-ice (field, etc)” issue. Len Boogaard, father of NY Rangers forward Derek Boogaard who recently died from a toxic mix of prescription pain pills and alcohol, has another explanation. “Derek was an addict, but why was he an addict? Everyone said he had ‘off-ice’ issues. No, it was hockey.”

In a kind of follow-up to their widely acclaimed investigation into Derek Boogaard’s life and death (found here, an absolute must-read), the New York Times has uncovered additional details regarding the extent of Boogaard’s addiction and medical treatment. After his death, Derek’s father began gathering his medical records from his various doctors at his 2 NHL teams, the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers.  What he found startled him.

Derek was given multiple prescription for pain medications from several different team-affiliated medical specialists, even for drugs he was had known addiction problems with. Len also knew that Derek was supplementing whatever drugs he was getting legally with street drugs. As a result, we will never know exactly what kind of doses Derek was taking. However, through his investigation, he found no signs of drug abuse until Derek’s fight injuries were followed up with prescription pills from team doctors.

Prior to his death, Boogaard was involved with the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Mental Health Program. However, this did not seem to affect the routinely high doses of medication he was receiving. From the documentation available to the Times, it appeared as if communication among the team’s doctors was lacking, and that he was often given several prescriptions of the same drug from several providers at the same time. While it’s not uncommon for addicts to try game their treaters through lies, deceit or omission, it shows that the lack of a platform for communication among doctors can lead to overmedication.

Derek’s father has considering bringing a lawsuit against several of Derek’s team-affiliated doctors, but worries about the length of the legal process. “It’s not the money,” Len Boogaard said. “But in eight years, how many more players are going to go through something like what Derek did?”


Tags: Derek Boogaard, Law, NHL, Sports, Sports Law

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