The NRL’s chief medico Ron Muratore says he believes rugby league does not have a problem with players abusing prescriptions drugs but that the game’s governing body is determined to find out.
The NRL announced on Wednesday it had reached an agreement with the Rugby League Players’ Association to begin testing for two classes of prescription drugs this year: Benzodiazepines (which include brand names such as Valium, Serepax, Mogadon and Rohypnol) and Zolpidems (which include Stilnox).
New Zealand players were linked with the practice of mixing sleeping pills with alcohol and energy drinks at last season’s World Cup and on Tuesday the Warriors club doctor John Mayhew claimed the practice was widespread in the NRL.
But the NRL’s chief medical officer Dr Muratore said his own research had indicated that was not the case.
“I’m pretty confident we don’t have a problem but until we test the players we can’t be sure,” Muratore told AAP.
“I don’t think it is a widespread problem. But we intend to find out.”
“Obviously there are some players who experiment to get their thrills but I believe the vast majority don’t.
“This is a constructive move to identify if there is a problem.”
Dr Muratore pointed to evidence collected by Australia Sports Anti-Doping Authority surveys over the last 18 months, when players were asked if they had recently taken a sleeping pill. He said of around 560 surveyed before being tested for banned drugs only five said they had taken a sleeping pill.
“Some people call me naive but I don’t think players would lie to ASADA,” Muratore said.
Dr Muratore said they survey indicated rugby league players consumed sleeping pills less than the general population. Approximately 10 per cent of people use drugs such as Valium.
Former NRL star Matthew Johns slammed the move by the NRL.
“To say a player can’t take a heavy painkiller to get pain relief from a broken leg or a torn pec, is absolutely ridiculous,” he told Triple M.
“I hope that is not the case, I hope there is going to be some things put in place there because, if that is the case, if a player is unable to take a painkiller after he sustains a nasty injury, they are making this sport too hard to play.
“Nowhere else in the world do they enforce this and now they are going to do it for a sport that is arguably the toughest.”
Dr Muratore said the provisions now in place were similar to other workplace environments such as with truck drivers working for transport giant Linfox.
“It will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis,” he said.
“If a player tests positive the team doctor will prepare a report as to the reason why.
“But if there is a problem there that is when we look to rehabilitation.”