Narcs for Athletes

In the ongoing concussion controversy  in sports, we tend to forget that there are physicians in place who are supposedly there to help these athletes.   Or are they?  The pressure of working for a professional sports team is huge.   Owners, coaches and players are all after the doctors to change their minds or coax them into letting them play or getting them meds.  It’s funny, but I think Oliver Stone did a great job representing this in his movie Any Given Sunday.   James Woods played the doctor for the football team, Dr. Harvey Mandrake, and was a total lowlife:

“I’m going to consult with a player? What are you talking about? I know his answer! They couldn’t take a piss in the morning, without the pills. You want to play innocent? Fuck your innocence! You don’t want to hear the answer, don’t ask the question. I didn’t have to ask him, because I knew the answer. These men are football players, they are gladiators. They will not live with shame, like you. And long ago, they made that choice.” 

How close is that to reality?  According to the NY Times, “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 Wild and the Rangers”.    Wow.  Thousands of pills.    Oliver Stone was on the money.  He even brought in the character of the new young doctor, played by Matt Modine.  This guys had morals and discovered Dr. Harvey Mandrake was covering for players who were suffering from near-career-ending injuries but were overdosing on painkillers, steroids and hormones to cover the pain. In the end,  Modine’s character, though conflicted, falls into the same trap.

The only difference is that Any Given Sunday was a movie.  This is real life.   Team doctors need to say no.  They need to have a unified voice.  They need to push to end fighting in hockey.  They need to push for better equipment and better tackling techniques.  They need to stop covering for the owners, coaches and players and do their job.  And risk losing their own job because of it.

Douglas Farrago MD

Douglas Farrago MD is a full-time practicing family doc in Forest, Va. He started Forest Direct Primary Care where he takes no insurance and bills patients a monthly fee. He is board certified in the specialty of Family Practice. He is the inventor of a product called the Knee Saver which is currently in the Baseball Hall of Fame. The Knee Saver and its knock-offs are worn by many major league baseball catchers. He is also the inventor of the CryoHelmet used by athletes for head injuries as well as migraine sufferers. Dr. Farrago is the author of four books, two of which are the top two most popular DPC books. From 2001 – 2011, Dr. Farrago was the editor and creator of the Placebo Journal which ran for 10 full years. Described as the Mad Magazine for doctors, he and the Placebo Journal were featured in the Washington Post, US News and World Report, the AP, and the NY Times. Dr. Farrago is also the editor of the blog Authentic Medicine which was born out of concern about where the direction of healthcare is heading and the belief that the wrong people are in charge. This blog has been going daily for more than 15 years Article about Dr. Farrago in Doximity Email Dr. Farrago – [email protected] 

  5 comments for “Narcs for Athletes

  1. craig
    June 7, 2012 at 12:06 am

    That may all betrue, BUT, I bet if these team doctors are not up front saying no to large quantities of narcotics, then 1) they will be fired, or 2) they will be sued for not adequately controlling pain.

  2. big picture doc
    June 6, 2012 at 10:22 pm

    The larger question is: How long will it take for us to evolve as human beings? Power and money has always been the name of the game, especially in politics.

  3. Richard B. Lawrence. M.D.
    June 6, 2012 at 2:55 pm

    “Been there, done that!” Was a team physician for over 10 years. Pain killers were a staple for injured athletes so that they could “play hurt”. However, I never prescribed anabolic steroids–EVER!!!

  4. Pat
    June 6, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Will this problem be confined to professional sports? As patient “satisfaction” surveys grow in importance in determining compensation for hospitals and doctors, won’t the happiness of patients demanding controlled substances for their chronic/life pain become yet another critical vital sign? Aw screw it…is it football season yet?

    • Stacy RN
      June 6, 2012 at 9:43 pm

      I used to work as a tele/med-surg nurse at an inner-city hospital. After spending 20 hours in the ED, the patient would be dumped on our floor with orders for 1 mg Dilaudid q2 IVP. The diagnosis didn’t really matter. The pressure on the docs to prescribe this and the nurses to give it was immense. Why? Press Ganey would know if our patients were unhappy, and that would translate into lengthy meetings about how to bring those numbers up, up, up! Between politicians, Medicare, insurance companies, administrators and satisfaction surveys, it is very clear that the lunatics are running the nut-house.

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