Brian O’Driscoll opens up about use of legal painkillers when he was playing
‘It almost became like habit’ says former Ireland and Lions captain
Brian O’Driscoll leaves the field injured in his last match for Leinster, against Glasgow in May 2014. Photograph: Patrick Bolger/Inpho.
The prescription painkillers Difene and co-codamol were regularly handed out to Leinster and Ireland rugby players so they could ‘play their best game’, former Ireland captain Brian O’Driscoll has revealed.
“I’d have been part of teams where the doctor would have walked down the bus on the way to games inquiring who wanted what in advance [of kick-off],” said O’Driscoll on Off The Ball. “For me, for the last couple of seasons, part of my match prep would have been a Difene and couple of co-codamol.”
O’Driscoll was speaking in the context of a International Rugby Players’ survey that revealed 45 per cent of players feel pressured by coaches and staff to play while injured.
He never felt such pressure.
“In the Leinster and Irish set-ups you could get your hands on difene. You got to fight your case a bit more now, and prove their necessity. Drug cabinets that might have been open once upon a time are very much shut and inaccessible.
“It used to be for sleepers as well. Diazepam [valium] to try and counteract what would happen with the caffeine [tablets] because they couldn’t sleep.
“I’m not saying it was the culture but it happened.”
Asked to explain the value of such drugs, by OTB presenter Joe Molloy, he replied, “Just a painkiller if I was carrying something. You know what? It almost became like habit, where it gave me a fighting chance if I wasn’t feeling 100 percent that it might have levelled it up.”
“Which might have been most of the time?” asked Molloy.
“Which was probably a lot of the time. That is the reality of it. I wouldn’t have been the only one doing that. It was usually the older players, just to get you to balance the equilibrium, almost of feeling okay.
“I’m sure at times in my subconscious I would have taken it where maybe I could have done without it,” O’Driscoll continued. “If it is perfectly legal there is no need for TUEs [Therapeutic Use Exemptions] , give yourself a chance of playing your best game.
“I also had caffeine before games. I’d have three little tablets of caffeine, like chewing gum. You’d get into a routine where I knew exactly what I was doing, I had it down to the final seconds. As soon as I ran out on the pitch I’d bash it away and do my pre-warm up before we got together with the team.
“That was part and parcel of the last four or five years of my career.”
Difene, co-codamol and Diazepam all require prescriptions to purchase in a pharmacy.
On the related issue of player welfare, O’Driscoll added: “This definitely comes into the realms of player welfare where they won’t protect [players] from themselves, from taking these things.
“You play games, you make money, you’ve a better quality of life. It’s a simple pyramid; you’ve more chance of success the more you play.
No adverse effects
“I wouldn’t change a whole lot, now . . . I haven’t felt any adverse effects. Ask me at 75 and see what the state of my insides are like. I didn’t take so many Difene that I’m concerned but there would be players out there taking them every single day, that can’t be good for you. “
Also during the interview on Wednesday Night Rugby concerns were raised about the damage Difene does to a person’s insides.
“I’d never take Difene on an empty stomach. That would absolutely pull your stomach apart. I was always very conscious not to take it with orange juice or a cup of coffee. You’d need to eat and make sure you’ve a full stomach and I never had an issue.”
O’Driscoll, Ireland’s most capped player and record try scorer, retired from rugby in 2014.
“It’s always something that stayed with me,” said the 39 year old. “I’d have some Difene in my golf bag now. Might not take one before I tee off but stiffen up on the round I might take a Difene.”