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NHL players react to report of cocaine use

Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban talks to reporters, Thursday, May 14, 2015 in Brossard, Que. The Canadiens lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 second round of Stanley Cup playoffs to end their season.
Montreal Canadiens defenceman P.K. Subban talks to reporters, Thursday, May 14, 2015 in Brossard, Que. The Canadiens lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 second round of Stanley Cup playoffs to end their season. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

TORONTO – Cocaine was a hot topic at NHL practices on the eve of the regular season’s opening day after a report that the drug’s use is up among players.

Deputy commissioner Bill Daly said cocaine use in the league has risen in an interview with TSN, adding that he didn’t think it was a crisis involving more than 20 players. Daly said he wasn’t sure how many players use the drug because the league doesn’t “test in a comprehensive way.”

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Reactions on the report and the possibility of more drug testing were varied. At the Montreal Canadiens’ practice in Brossard, Que., defenceman P.K. Subban said he’s not in favour of players doing drugs.

“Our message to kids is always: don’t do drugs,” Subban said. “Regardless of what the league does, that is something that is unfortunately out there, not just in hockey but in the world. I don’t know what the situation is in hockey, but cocaine’s a crazy drug.

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“You learn about it in school. You see what it does to people. It’s crazy.”

Rumours of players using cocaine are nothing new. Jarret Stoll was arrested in April for cocaine possession at a Las Vegas hotel.

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association have had a Substance Abuse and Behavioural Health Program (SABH) in place since 1996.

“If we’re dealing with substance abuse or substance incidents, whether it’s alcohol or drugs, not only do we have education and counselling, there’s a program,” commissioner Gary Bettman said last week when asked about off-ice incidents but not specifically cocaine use. “You should assume that if somebody’s involved in one of those incidents, they’ve been picked up in the program. It doesn’t deserve and need a lot of publicity. We just need to take care of business.”

As part of the NHL’s drug-testing program, there are 2,400 samples taken each season for inspection for performance-enhancing substances. A third of them are also screened for so-called “drugs of abuse,” though a positive test does not carry any kind of suspension or fine.

A player whose test comes back with dangerously high levels of a drug, such as cocaine or ecstasy, is subject to consultation with SABH doctors. The program includes four stages with varying degrees of treatment and discipline.

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The NHL and NHLPA would have to negotiate and agree to make all of the drug tests subject to that additional screening. According to TSN, NHLPA executive director Don Fehr has brought up cocaine use in meetings with several teams.

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Toronto Maple Leafs players, who were prepped by the public relations staff that questions about cocaine were coming, said they’d only be in favour of more testing if it was a positive step for the membership.

“It’s something we’re going to have to discuss as a players’ organization,” Maple Leafs forward Daniel Winnik said. “I think from Don’s background (with the Major League Baseball Players Association), more testing and just agreeing to it right away hasn’t necessarily been a great thing in the past for them with the leaked information on the steroid scandals. I think we’ll definitely look for it and be open to discussions about it.”

Winnik and other players denied that cocaine use was an issue for the Leafs.

“There’s definitely no issue in this room,” centre Nazem Kadri said. “I can’t really speak for the league. I just know what goes on in this dressing room.”