Derek Boogaard was a hockey player. Well, sort of. He didn't score goals (only 3 in 6 years) and he spent a lot of time in the penalty box (589 minutes). He was an enforcer: at 6'8" he was a ferocious and much-feared brawler.
As we learn in a New York Times article, he was also addicted to pain medications. While still playing hockey in 2008-2009, he received at least 25 prescriptions for opioids from ten doctors, a total of 600+ pills: eight team doctors of the Wild (his team at the time), an oral surgeon in Minneapolis and a doctor from another NHL team.
In 2010, he was signed by the New York Rangers for $6.5 million, despite his by then well-documented drug problems - he was an active participant in the NHL's substance abuse program. While playing for the Rangers, a team dentist wrote five prescriptions for hydrocodone; another team doctor wrote 10 prescriptions for Ambien.
There is not much question that Boogaard suffered from pain. Here is just a small segment of his pain-filled saga, from the final few months of his career: In October 2010, a punch from a Toronto player broke a three-tooth bridge in his mouth. A couple of days later, he hurt his hand while punching a Boston player. In November he had his nose broken by an Edmonton player. In December he suffered a concussion in a fight with an Ottowa player. He never played hockey again.
In the months following his retirement, he exhibited erratic behavior and wild mood swings. He acquired numerous prescriptions from current and former doctors. In May of 2011 he signed himself out of a rehab facility, spent a night drinking with friends, and died of an overdose in his Minneapolis apartment. He was 28 years old.
Privilege Has Its Pain
The article quotes Dr. Jane 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 treatement. And athletes are at high risk of developing addiction because of their risk-taking personalities." She adds: "the tendency is to overtreat" because team doctors want to help athletes return to competition." [At LynchRyan, we are strong proponents of prompt return to work, but only where there is no risk of re-injury. There is no such thing as modified duty on ice.]
Boogaard was a fan favorite wherever he played. In hockey, fighting is "part of the game." But his sad saga is primarily a story of brain injury and addiction. As a professional athlete, Boogaard had virtually unlimited access to drugs, through doctors who, for the most part, did not bother to document their treatment plans or monitor their patient.
It should come as no surprise that an autopsy revealed that Boogaard had chronic traumatic encephalopathy C.T.E., a brain disease caused by repeated blows to the head.Thus he is linked in death to the growing number of football players who suffered the same fate, the result of frequent concussions.
Official Response Speak
As a lifelong student of language and rhetoric, I cannot miss an opportunity to quote some of the official responses to Boogaard's death:
The NHL: "Based on what we know, Derek Boogaard at all times received medical treatment, care and counseling that was deemed appropriate for the specifics of his situation."
The Minnesota Wild: "The Wild treated Derek's medical status in accordance with the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program as we do with all our players."
The NY Rangers: "We are confident that the medical professionals who treated Derek acted in a professional and responsible manner and in accordance with their best medical judgment. They took extraordinary steps to coordinate the medication prescribed for him with the professionals in charge of the NHL-NHLPA Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program."
Not exactly heartfelt or compassionate, just the voices of powerful corporations, protecting their interests, their brands and their proverbial asses. As for Derek Boogaard and his misguided career on ice, RIP for the man who knew no peace.