THE Premier League is becoming swamped with players hooked on sleeping pills, The Sun can reveal.
Scores of stars are mixing “sleepers” with alcohol to chase a new recreational high.
Insiders say the problem with pills such as Zopiclone and Zolpidem is growing at a terrifying rate with some risking their lives and careers.
The Sun recently told how one England star has been popping pack after pack of Zopiclone, downing them with champagne and vodka.
Today we can reveal two more Three Lions players have turned to the black market to get their hands on larger quantities of the Class C prescription medication.
One Wag returned home from a night out to find her partner out cold on the sofa and their hysterical kids trying to wake him.
A source close to the star said: “They’re destroying him — and those around him.’’
Astonishingly, the pills are not on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances.
There are now calls for players to be regularly screened by their clubs or for the pills to be outlawed.
Sporting Chance, the charity set up by former England and Arsenal hero Tony Adams, said it had been contacted by “many, many more players” seeking help.
The charity warned this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Chief executive Colin Bland said: “We have seen a notable increase in this behaviour during the pandemic.
“There is help there, from us, the Premier League and their clubs, but it’s been harder to get the message out because of lockdown. It’s created a perfect storm.”
It is well known that footballers struggle getting to sleep after midweek evening matches.
Their bodies are buzzing after 90 minutes and on a “come down” for hours after getting home. It was habitual for clubs to hand out the tablets to players — in small doses that a GP would recommend.
But like most prescription drugs, the more you take, the more you need to get the same effect.
And players say the routine distribution has started many on a rocky road to sleeping pill addiction.
Some are scouring the black market for their fix, and are sharing them in dressing rooms.
Premier League clubs are now reeling from the “monster” they created and are desperate to clampdown on the use.
One of the three England aces, who The Sun is not naming, was originally prescribed small doses of Zolpidem by a club doctor.
But he began mixing it with booze to get high and is now dependent.
Fears for three aces
PLAYER 1: One of his generation’s most talented stars but habit is the talk of dressing rooms.
He has openly downed the pills with champagne and vodka at parties. But his habit leaves him lacklustre in training the next day.
PLAYER 2: Pro with years of experience playing for England.
Prescribed Zolpidem by club. Started mixing pills with alcohol, now addicted. Wag begged him to get help after finding him “out cold”.
PLAYER 3: Young star tipped to be England regular. Suffered a form dip many have linked to his prolific use of sleepers. Concerns he may never fulfil potential.
A source said: “He has been taking them every single day for the last year. It has become part of his routine.
“He’d take them before bed but it soon progressed to whenever and wherever.
“They are destroying him and those around him. Taking sleeping tablets is rife among some of his teammates and at other clubs too.
“There’s an open conversation between players about who can get what and where from. It’s out of control. The pills need to be banned.
“What if a player was behind the wheel and killed someone you love?
“They don’t consider the repercussions. They think they’re invincible.”
The source said the player has confided in club bosses who are offering their full support.
They added: “The club has recommended he seek therapy to address it. His partner is worried and wants him to get help urgently.”
One dressing room source said our original story on an unnamed England ace had sent shockwaves through the game.
They don’t consider the repercussions. They think they’re invincible.
The source added: “What The Sun has uncovered is being discussed at the very top.
“There has been panic about what might come out next. Everyone is aware of the player who has recently battled a Zopiclone addiction.
“He has been all over the place. It is common knowledge across the Premier League.
Heroes not immune to huge risks
By Craig Dexter, Sporting Chance
THERE is a misconception that substances prescribed for life issues such as poor sleep are less of a threat to wellbeing than illegal ones purchased on a street corner.
Yet they can be just as dangerous and habit forming if misused or abused.
Doctors and psychiatrists are trained to assess a safe and appropriate dose.
Importantly, they will consider all the factors relevant to an individual patient.
Those in professional sport may, wrongly, believe the rules do not apply.
Excuses will include factors such as repetitive injury, wanting to play in pain and late kick-offs due to TV.
Sometimes, sports people tell us, it’s just because of a simple desire to change the way they are feeling.
Certain sports have normalised prescribed medication use.
Look deeper and you find more dangers.
Substances bought from illegal sources may not be as advertised.
Often the dose indicators are way off.
Dependent players risk prosecution or even blackmail.
The main reason people ask Sporting Chance for help is that they have started to find their own behaviour unacceptable.
“But he is by no means the only player struggling. They’ve been gobbling them down like sweets. This is a massive issue.”
Previously aces inhaled balloons containing nitrous oxide, known as laughing gas or hippy crack, to get their kicks.
It was widely used on the party scene because of the euphoria it can induce. But “sleepers” are now the go-to high.
Mr Bland added: “Some players will have a habit, where it has become routine.
“Others will have an addictive disorder and this is their chosen drug of choice.
“Some will know they have a problem and seek help. But others won’t or will insist that they don’t have a problem.
“Elite athletes, footballers, are mixing large doses with alcohol for that very reason and it’s becoming a growing problem.
“They won’t be prescribed them in the quantity they are using, so they often turn to the black market.
“Let’s be clear, using prescribed medication beyond its prescribed dose is drug abuse.
“Using prescribed medication bought on the black market and not prescribed to you is also drug abuse and may be illegal.
“If that wasn’t enough, the boxes of tablets warn against using with alcohol so to mix the two is, again, drug abuse.
“There’s no way of getting away from it. It’s a murky world that they are occupying.”
The British Medical Journal has published experts’ letters warning against the misuse of sleeping pills and their ready availability online.
A recent survey of Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA) members showed nine per cent were experiencing difficulties with damaging addictive habits.
The Football Association provides players with general information on what substances they put into their systems, plus educational material on the relevant matters.
- Players who need help should contact sportingchanceclinic.com
- Members of the public who fear they have a problem should call Talk to Frank on 0300 1236600 and Narcotics Anonymous 0300 9991212.
WHERE TO GET HELP
Helpline open 24/7: 0300 123 6600
For help finding a service or to Instant chat
Help, support and advice for those affected by addiction
Help for anyone with drug and alcohol issues
Dedicated help for people under 25.
Mental health support line: 0300 304 7000
Rehab and community addiction treatment
0300 330 0659
Helpline open 9am-9pm, 7 days a week
0300 888 3853
Help for families affected by drugs and alcohol
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