Revisiting the painkiller problem

After the tragic losses of NHL enforcers due to suicide or overdoses this off-season, a handful of former players spoke out about the elephant in the room.

“Today the biggest problem, which isn’t talked about…is pills,” said Ian Laperriere. It’s painkillers.”

In an interview with Sports Illustrated, Laperriere said that painkillers were appropriate when necessary but that some players were taking them just for the buzz. He suggested that he saw four or five guys on each of his former teams taking pills, whether or not they were needed.

“There is also a huge, huge problem when guys take them with alcohol,” he said.

In the same story, former Flyers defenseman Denis Gauthier admitted to recreational pill popping.

“When Philadelphia sent me down to the minors, I went from 10 years of five-star hotels and first-class airplanes to riding the bus for 12 hours,” said Gauthier. “It was a huge shock, it was tough. So, sometimes, I’d take a pill to try and relax and get some sleep, forget about everything for a while.”

After a season with the Philadelphia Phantoms, Gauthier was traded to the Los Angeles Kings.

Riley Cote also spoke out against the abuse of pain pills, both on his Facebook page and in an interview with Men’s Health.

“Sure, you could suck it up, I guess,” said Cote. “But if you want something, there’s a way to get it. Nobody’s pushing it on you, but you can get it if you want it. Ultimately, it’s up to the individual. Some people are more liberal about it and others aren’t educated and don’t realize how much damage it can do.”

The striking part in all of this is that of the handful of people who were vocal about pill abuse, three of them were Flyers. Gauthier admitting pill use in Philadelphia. Cote only played for one NHL team, the Flyers.

Cote also discussed a curiously specific scenario when he was asked who was to blame.

“A lot of these guys are getting them from the black market, not from their doctors,” he said. “Of course, doctors are over-prescribing them, too. You hear about it all the time—somebody injures a hand and winds up with a prescription for 30 Percocet and two refills.

Worse, these painkillers mask your emotional pain. They kill your ability to feel. Things that would normally bother you don’t bother you anymore. I can say this: Our team has never overprescribed this stuff, but I do know it happens.”

What happens? Guys aren’t necessarily getting pills from doctors [in Philly]. If they are getting them, it’s out on the streets. To add in Laperriere’s statement, some of these guys are then going out and mixing the pills with alcohol.

Although Cote spoke from his personal standpoint as an enforcer, he admitted that he did not know Wade Belak, Rick Rypien, or Derek Boogaard — the three enforcers who died this off-season — very well. So, who was he talking about?

The evidence doesn’t explicitly state that Cote, Laperriere, or Gauthier, were implicating any Flyers but their comments can certainly be interpreted that way. It adds up, even if the details are vague.

It’s not the intent of this article to play the role of whistle-blower or rumor monger — but let’s assume for the sake of argument that some of the recently-departed Flyers were recreationally popping pills and drinking at the same time.

If that was the case, then it certainly puts the off-season into perspective. Paul Holmgren’s moves, when viewed from that perspective, no longer seem like a drastic overreaction.

It appears that he was attempting damage control and now gets to be lauded for taking the bull by the horns and proactively removing bad influences from the locker room to protect younger, budding stars like Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk.

Maybe, just maybe, Holmgren made all the hard choices he needed to make and wasn’t — as far as the forward situation is concerned — the puppet doing Ed Snider’s bidding, as he was portrayed to be.