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 New York Rangers.
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:
— 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 NHL 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.
The records reveal the ease with which Boogaard received prescription drugs — often shortly after sending a text message to a team doctor's cellphone and without a notation made in team medical files. They also show the breadth of the drugs being prescribed, from flu medications and decongestants to antidepressants and anti-anxiety pills.
Most striking, though, are the narcotic painkillers and sleeping pills, which Boogaard had a history of abusing.
"To see him have all that access to those doctors and all those prescriptions, that is mind boggling," said Dr. Louis Baxter Sr., the executive medical director of the Professional Assistance Program of New Jersey and immediate past president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine. "He had such easy access to prescription medicines."
The records paint an incomplete picture. They do not show what Boogaard told doctors or the degree to which he may have misled them. They do not indicate what the doctors knew, if anything, about Boogaard's pursuit of drugs bought illicitly on his own. They do not reflect whether the doctors knew what other doctors were diagnosing or prescribing.
But, at the least, the records raise questions for hockey and professional sports of all kinds. 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 NHL'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?
The NHL, teams, team doctors and substance-abuse program directors involved in Boogaard's care all declined to discuss any of that.
The league, the Wild and the Rangers were given specific examples of the care that Boogaard received. Each released two-sentence written statements defending the care and citing the guidance of the league's Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program.
None of the doctors mentioned in this article would comment. Neither would Dr. Brian Shaw or Dr. David Lewis, co-directors of the Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program that they founded in 1996 through the NHL and its players association. They took on oversight of Boogaard's care after he was placed in rehabilitation in 2009, and they oversee similar programs for the National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer. Lewis is a psychiatrist on the staff of The Canyon, a rehabilitation center in Malibu, Calif. Shaw is a psychologist based in Toronto.
Little is known about their program, even within the NHL's league offices. The league, saying that privacy is paramount, has said that it does not know at any one time which players are enrolled in the program. Requests to interview the directors, even about the general parameters of their program or their ability to oversee three leagues with more than 1,500 athletes, have been routinely denied.
A PLAYER NEEDING HELP
Derek Boogaard was an unlikely NHL star. When he was a boy, his limited hockey skills were offset by his size and his willingness to use his fists. Raised in small-town Saskatchewan, he grew into a feared 6-foot-8-inch brawler.
He became one of the most popular players for the Wild before signing with the Rangers for $1.6 million a season. It was a rare sum for an enforcer, someone whose role is like that of a playground bodyguard — to intimidate, and occasionally beat up, opposing players, whether to settle a simmering dispute or to excite the crowd.