NRL to crack down on use of painkillers

The NRL was investigating greater testing for the abuse of prescription painkillers before Dylan Walker and Aaron Gray’s overdose.

South Sydney pair Walker and Gray were released from hospital on Friday after recovering from a prescription painkiller overdose.

The contrite Rabbitohs outside backs said their plight should serve as a warning to others to not abuse prescription medication.

The club, police and NRL have launched an investigation into the circumstances of the incident but Rabbitohs chief executive John Lee called for a broader approach to curb what he said was a growing problem.

Lee said the code needed to face some hard truths and called on the NRL to increase testing for the abuse of prescription drugs and introduce hair follicle testing.

He said the Redfern club would volunteer for any pilot prescription drug testing regime to be carried out.

“What is in place at the moment is good, and the NRL has taken some excellent steps to get more information, especially around prescribed medicines, but it’s not the best in the world and that’s what we’ve got to move to,” Lee said.

The NRL said it had been investigating the introduction of hair follicle testing for several months and was in talks with the Rugby League Players’ Association.

Last year, in a bid to clamp down on the abuse of painkillers, the NRL introduced urine testing for two classes of prescription drugs – Benzodiazepines (such as Valium, Serepax and Mogadon) and Zolpidems (such as Stilnox).

The tests were for research purposes only, to determine the extent of the problem. If a player returned a positive test, they were diverted to medical officials for assessment for counselling and rehabilitation.

This season the NRL conducted 2000 tests on players across all levels and described their testing regime as the strictest of any Australian sporting code.

But Lee questioned whether the NRL’s testing regime went far enough, pointing out that the tests did not detect substances such as Tramadol and Endone.

“We have to take the truth serum and realise we need a better testing regime and a better monitoring regime,” Lee said.

“So these sorts of medications can be seen and we can take steps if people are taking them too much.”

Despite the players being awake and communicating for three days, Lee said the club had yet to ascertain from them all the details of the incident.

He ruled out other illicit drugs being a factor but it was unclear what they took or where they got the substances.

Souths offered for any trial prescription drugs testing regime to be carried out at the club, a move welcomed by the NRL.

“It is clear that there has been a major incident this week and it is appropriate that the additional measures proposed by Souths are initially trialled there,” Weeks said.

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