Prescription painkillers blamed in OU linebacker's death

University of Oklahoma linebacker Austin Box had five different painkillers in his system when he died May 19.
BY RANDY ELLIS rellis@opubco.com Published: July 12, 2011
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ENID — Sooner linebacker Austin Box had five different painkillers in his system when he died May 19. It was the toxic combination of those prescription medicines that likely caused his death, according to an informational copy of a state toxicology report released Monday by his parents, Craig and Gail Box.

In an emotional interview at their Enid home, Box's parents talked about their son's death and even more about his life — a life of showing compassion for others that they hope will not be overshadowed by the way he died.

His parents don't doubt the state medical examiner's findings, but they find it hard to understand.

Although Austin had an injured back and experienced pain when he played and some discomfort at other times, he was not believed to be taking any painkillers prescribed to him by a doctor at the time of his death, his parents said.

Austin and his dad shared a love for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team and had just returned from a four-day trip to watch their favorite team play less than 24 hours before his death.

During those four days together, Craig said his son rarely left his sight and he never saw him take any medicine other than “liquid Advil, which we both took,” and never saw him drink anything with alcohol rather than an occasional Blue Moon beer.

Autopsy information

The single-page autopsy informational sheet the family provided to The Oklahoman did not list any finding of street drugs or alcohol in Austin's system. It listed the five drugs found in his body as oxymorphone, morphine, hydrocodone, hydromorphone and oxycodone with alprazolam.

The probable cause of death was identified as “pulmonary edema and aspiration pneumonia” due to central nervous system depression probably caused by “mixed drug toxicity.” It listed cardiomegaly (an enlarged heart) and chronic pain history as other significant medical conditions.

His parents said Austin suffered a tiny fracture in his back while lifting weights at the end of his freshman year in high school and later suffered a bulging disc that forced him to miss the first five University of Oklahoma football games last year.

There have been other injuries, as well, including a dislocated elbow, but Austin's mother said he was never one to take pain medication any longer than absolutely necessary.

Austin underwent painful Tommy John surgery on his elbow in 2009 and was prescribed painkillers, but refused to take all the medicine, she said.

“He only took that medication for a couple of days and then he said ‘no,'” Gail said.

Gail said she has also been prescribed pain pills in past years and said she had some leftover pills in the house. She said she checked the containers after Austin's death and the pills were still there.

‘Silent sufferer'

Craig is an attorney and Gail is a school counselor. Both said they have seen people who showed signs of drug addiction in the past and think they would have recognized it if their son had a long-term addiction problem.

OU Blog: Box's parents issue statement on report Sign/View the Austin Box Guest Book

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