South Sydney players Aaron Gray and Dylan Walker are on the road to recovery after overdosing on prescription drugs, but their near-death experience has prompted calls for a national debate on the issue.
Rabbitohs chief executive John Lee said the players were now free of medical equipment which was supporting them after their life-threatening experience.
“They’ve gone from critical to stable and now I can report that their condition is even better, it’s good,” Lee told Sky Sports Radio. “Both the players are very alert. They’re communicating with medical staff and with their families.”
The pair was rushed to St Vincents Hospital in the early parts of Monday morning after a friend noticed the players were seriously unwell at Gray’s apartment in Roseberry and dialled triple-0.
Both had undergone post-season surgery – Walker on his left hand and Gray on his right knee – and were on painkillers. However, energy drinks were also found at the unit and police and the NRL are now awaiting the results of a toxicology report.
Lee was insistent that Walker and Gray, who are childhood friends, were not abusing the pain killers “for fun” but described their actions as dumb.
“It was a very serious matter. If circumstances had been different, if there hadn’t been another person at the unit we might have been talking about a totally different event today,” said Lee.
He added some level of personal responsibility needed to be undertaken by players and administrators but it was time for a collective approach on the issue.
“Unfortunately I think for Australia, whenever anything goes wrong we all call upon government to come up with a new law or we ask the NRL to have a new rule or to amend a rule,” Lee said.
“But ultimately, people have to look at themselves in the mirror especially if you’re an athlete, or you’re an administrator or you’re a coach and say to yourself `am I doing the best thing for myself’?”
“There needs to be nearly a national conversation about how we’re dealing with different sorts of pains and pressures and what happens in sport.
“I think we’ve got to get real data, we’ve got to get the athletes involved with the professionals and debate what is the problem.”
St George Illawarra halfback Benji Marshall said while the abuse of prescription medication was less common since the NRL clamped down on it several years ago, it was still prevalent.
“It’s a wake up call,” Marshall said. “Throughout my years in club teams and in rep teams, I’ve seen players take prescription drugs recreationally.
“It’s fine to take them to ease pain or if you’ve had an operation, but to take them recreationally instead of drinking, it’s when you cross the line.”
Former NRL stars Matthew Johns and Mark Geyer warned painkiller abuse was rife and said it was an epidemic in the NRL.
“These days, many players, not just some, take prescription drugs for kicks,” Johns said on MMM’s Grill Team.
“Ten years ago it was a bit of a problem, these days it’s absolutely rife.
“The abuse of this is widespread in rugby league. I believe it’s widespread in sport.”
Former NSW and Kangaroos representative Geyer admitted he was addicted to painkillers in the mid-1990s.
“I was playing for Perth and I had several knee operations,” Geyer said. “After every operation I would be prescribed Panadeine Forte.
“After a while the doctor said ‘mate, you don’t need them anymore’, but I was still chasing that feeling.”