EL RENO — The El Reno Police Department is continuing to investigate the May 19 death of Sooner linebacker Austin Box in an attempt to determine the source of the prescription drugs he consumed, Police Chief Ken Brown confirmed Tuesday.
However, identifying a source may be difficult unless someone steps forward, Brown said.
“Unfortunately, this day and time, prescription drugs are easily attainable,” the police chief said.
Box's parents Monday released a one-page informational copy of a state medical examiner's report that indicated their son had five painkillers and the anti-anxiety drug alprazolam in his system when he died. The toxic combination of the drugs likely precipitated his death, the report said. The painkillers were identified as oxymorphone, morphine, hydrocodone, hydromorphone and oxycodone.
Craig and Gail Box, of Enid, said their son experienced some discomfort from back injuries, but they were not aware of Austin, 22, having any prescription for the drugs. They said they thought Austin would have told them if he had a prescription or that they would have learned about it through the family's insurance plan paperwork.
Austin died after spending the night in El Reno at the home of a friend, J.T. Cobble, who called 911 in the morning after finding his friend unconscious and not breathing.
“He takes pain pills,” Cobble told the 911 dispatcher.
Brown said police officers found one pill in the home that had the appearance of a prescription drug, but said his department has not determined the type of drug through chemical analysis.
“No pill bottle was found,” he said.
Brown said there was also no indication of partying the night before. Austin apparently spent a quiet evening playing video games with a friend, the police chief said.
There is a prescription database in Oklahoma, and Brown said his department is working with the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control to determine whether Austin had legitimate prescriptions for any of the drugs detected in his body after his death.
If no matches are found, it will be difficult to determine where Austin got the drugs unless someone comes forward with information, Brown said.
“We've never closed the investigation,” he said.
Brown said if Austin did consume illicit drugs, there is no indication at this point that he obtained them in El Reno, so there is a good chance the department will be forwarding whatever information it obtains to other agencies.
The police chief confirmed that investigators examined the call history on Austin's cellphone, but said they found nothing obvious that would point them toward a drug transaction.
“As I recall, there wasn't anything odd about the phone numbers, text messages or anything like that,” he said.
“Nothing odd stuck out to us — no known numbers of concern that I'm aware of and definitely no text messages that would indicate either by code or direct talk that they were setting up a time to pick up pills or drop off pills or anything like that.
Craig Box said he also reviewed his son's cellphone logs and found mostly numbers of friends and family members. He said there was one number he had suspicions about that he would like to see checked out.
Meanwhile, Austin's death has raised questions about how university athletic departments help athletes deal with painful injuries.
Kenny Mossman, spokesman for OU athletics, said the university has great confidence in certain physicians and will refer athletes to those doctors when athletes are injured.
It's up to the athletes to decide whether to go to those physicians or doctors of their own choosing, he said.
“Most will accept a referral,” he said. “At that point, the doctor and the athlete establish what would be a fairly normal patient-doctor relationship. If there is a prescription medicine required, the physician writes that and deals directly with the individual as they would any other patient.”
Mossman said doctors use their discretion in advising patients how much pain they should endure while continuing to play.
“I know ours historically have been very cautious on that front, and you rely, of course, on the athlete, as well, to give you a good idea of what they are experiencing,” he said.
Because of doctor-
OU and most athletic programs have drug testing programs, Mossman said.
All OU athletes are randomly tested during their competitive seasons, and at least 20 percent are tested during the off season as well, he said. They are given a maximum of 24 hours notice of drug tests and sometimes much less — such as being pulled out of practice for testing.
The NCAA and Big 12 Conference also do random drug checks on athletes at championship events, he said.
Counseling is offered to any athlete when a need is detected, he said.
“What occurred with Austin is a rare circumstance,” Mossman said.