New York Rangers player Derek Boogaard died from an accidental overdose of the powerful prescription painkiller oxycodone and alcohol, according to autopsy results released Friday by the Hennepin County, Minn., medical examiner.
Boogaard, a 28-year-old forward who was the team's enforcer, was found dead in his Minneapolis apartment about 6 p.m. on May 13 by his brothers, Aaron and Ryan, and a St. Paul, Minn.-based strength coach, Jeremy Clark, according to a police report obtained by Newsday. He was last seen alive just before 4 that morning.
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Oxycodone is the second most prescribed pain medication behind Vicodin, said Dr. Brian Durkin, a director of Stony Brook University's Center for Pain Management. It is at the center of an emerging national recreational drug epidemic because of its accessibility, he said.
Durkin added that people who take oxycodone, which is commercially known as OxyContin, regularly "become tolerant to them and need more of the drug over time to initiate the same level of pain relief."
Minneapolis police Sgt. William Palmer declined to say whether Boogaard had a prescription for oxycodone, saying the investigation into his death is ongoing.
Boogaard's agent, Ron Salcer, said pain medications have been made too accessible for athletes, who aren't often monitored closely or told about the dangers of taking the drugs the wrong way.
"I do think these pain meds get prescribed way too easily," he said. "Athletes, hockey players, deal with a lot of pain and injuries and want to get through them. There just has to be more education before they get prescribed."
Boogaard's family said in a statement issued through the National Hockey League Players' Association: "After repeated courageous attempts at rehabilitation and with the full support of the New York Rangers, the NHLPA, and the NHL, Derek had been showing tremendous improvement but was ultimately unable to beat this opponent."
The family said Boogaard "played and lived with pain for many years" and they thanked the league, players association, the Rangers and the Minnesota Wild, his former team, "for supporting Derek's continued efforts in his battle."
"Regardless of cause, Derek's passing is a tragedy," the NHL said in a statement. The Rangers declined to comment.
A funeral service for Boogaard is scheduled for Saturday at The Royal Canadian Mounted Police Academy in his hometown of Regina, Saskatchewan. Rangers general manager Glen Sather and players Brandon Prust and Marc Staal are among about 30 team representatives expected to attend.
After signing a four-year, $6.5-million contract with the Rangers last July, Boogaard was limited to just 22 games because of a concussion suffered in an on-ice fight on Dec. 9. He struggled with post-concussion syndromes and admitted in an interview with Newsday last February that the ordeal had been "scary."
The 6-7, 265-pound Boogaard was involved in 70 fights during his NHL career. His family donated Boogaard's brain to Boston University researchers who are studying degenerative brain disease in athletes.
With Steve Zipay and AP