Derek Boogaard’s medical history sheds alarming light on NHL policy, lack of accountability

Perhaps Derek Boogaard's nickname, the Boogeyman, was more apt than we realized. The former enforcer's death continues to haunt us.

Boogaard's tragic death in May of 2011 has raised some serious questions about the health and wellness of today's NHLers. What role did fighting play in Boogaard's mental deterioration? Are there resources for those suffering from mental illness? How about those suffering from addiction?

Regarding that last one, the picture just got a little more grim. Wanting to know more about the circumstances surrounding the enforcer's death, Derek's father, Len Boogaard, went out in search of his son's medical records.

The findings shed light on the remarkable series of prescriptions Boogaard procured prior to his death. They raise alarming questions about the considerable ease with which he and other hockey players get access to medication and further their addictions. From the New York Times:

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.

[...] 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.

The article (which is a must-read) admits that the records don't give you the full picture. But the picture it does give is a damning indictment of the way the NHL can enable addicts and its failure to take care of its own.

"Derek was an addict," Len Boogaard says in the article. "But why was he an addict? Everyone said he had 'off-ice' issues. No, it was hockey."

That's a powerful quote, and I truly hope that this new information forces the NHL to reconsider its policies. The two primary issues with Boogaard's prescriptions -- their high dosage and the lack of accountability and consistency in the doctors overseeing his care -- are both major concerns that needed to be raised.

The latter concern sticks out like a sore thumb. The fact that Boogaard was able to see so many different doctors, several of which must have had very little understanding of his circumstances or vocation, is a travesty. Clearly, the NHL needs to severely amend its policies and improve communication among its contracted medical professionals.

I'm of the mind that each team needs two doctors, one that travels with the team and one that stays behind, and the NHLPA needs to find a way to connect all these doctors and make them accountable to one another.

But, while hockey's dangerously lax infrastructure made things easy for Boogaard, I don't think it's entirely to blame.

I hate to side with the doctors, especially since I think the haste and lack of care with which they wrote Boogaard's prescriptions is absolutely ludicrous. But if there's one thing I wish I didn't know from personal experience, it's that, if you want to become an expert in gaming the system, there's no quicker way than becoming an addict.

Addicts don't always tell doctors the truth. No doubt Boogaard wasn't entirely honest with the physicians.

That's not to say the NHL can't improve immediately. It has to. It's clear that its policies played a major role in enabling Boogaard's continued descent. But there will always be glitches in the system, and far too often they come to light through a tragedy like this.

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