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Tough Guy Favre Faces Daunting Task

May 15, 1996

MILWAUKEE (AP) _ Specialists who deal with drug dependency say Brett Favre will confront tremendous challenges when he returns to football following treatment for his addiction to pain medication.

The Green Bay Packers’ star quarterback and the NFL’s Most Valuable Player says he is voluntarily entering a drug treatment center ``for however long it takes to get better.″

Favre, at a news conference Tuesday, attributed his addiction to his many operations but didn’t say what medications he was taking.

The NFL on Wednesday refused to confirm or deny reports the 26-year-old player also will be treated for alcohol abuse.

The Packers hope Favre can be ready for training camp in late July. However, Ian Cummings, president of the Association of Emergency Physicians, said that might be wishful thinking because most recovery programs take several months.

``It’s a tough problem to overcome. It’s not a quick fix,″ Cummings said. ``And I would caution that any quick fix that might be attempted might not be durable.″

Cummings, a specialist in substance abuse, said that from now on Favre will almost certainly have to be treated with non-narcotics for aches and pains.

``People who were addicted to narcotics are always at risk of relapse,″ he said.

The mental aspect of addiction might be even harder to handle, suggested Thomas Tutko, a psychologist at San Jose State University who has studied drugs in sports for three decades.

``The physical part you can fight. But how do you fight phantoms? How do you fight you lining up and the guy across from you calls you a junkie?″ Tutko asked. ``Or people on your own team are wondering are you still involved in drugs? You have a poor performance, is that the reason for it?

``He’s going to get hit again, he’s going to get clobbered again. How is he going to deal with it? It isn’t like, `OK, well I’ve decided to be in pain the rest of my life.′ He’s going to have to learn to be in control and know how to do it.″

Neither Tutko nor Cummings is involved in Favre’s treatment, but both said they respect the quarterback for going public with his dependency because admission is the first step in the arduous recovery process.

``He could have very easily kept this secret,″ said Tutko, speaking from San Jose, Calif. ``He could have done what Elvis Presley did, stuff himself with drugs and then finally deteriorate. But he chose to say, `I have a problem.′ That’s gutsy.″

Coach Mike Holmgren has instructed his staff and medical personnel to not discuss Favre’s situation.

WKOW-TV in Madison, Wis., reported that Favre will enter the Menningers Clinic in Topeka, Kan.

Favre says he sought help under the league’s substance abuse policy in February after a seizure following ankle surgery.

Because he entered the substance-abuse program voluntarily, Favre won’t be subject to a suspension. He will undergo periodic drug testing, but the results will be used for treatment, not punishment.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league wouldn’t confirm or deny ESPN’s Tuesday night report, which cited unidentified sources, that Favre would also be treated for alcohol abuse.

``The confidentially of the league’s substance abuse program prohibits us from getting into specifics,″ Aiello said. ``I don’t know the exact nature of the problem and we can’t comment on it.″

Favre has often joked about being a big beer drinker and he has never made a secret that he enjoys the nightlife. But neither he nor any of the team’s executives or doctors would say whether his dependency included alcohol.

Cummings said an alcohol problem would be a double-whammy.

``It can complicate the treatment and recovery processes,″ he said by phone from Dayville, Conn. ``Alcohol withdrawal is perhaps more precarious than narcotics withdrawal, physically, because it’s a more dangerous phenomena.″

``Narcotics withdrawal, as uncomfortable as it may be, is generally not life-threatening. In medicine, it’s generally acknowledged that alcohol withdrawal has the potential to be quite dangerous.″

Favre led the Packers to heir first NFC championship game in 28 years last season. He has never missed a game because of injury in his five seasons, and his 61-game starting streak is the longest among NFL quarterbacks.

But last month, he said the wear and tear was getting to him.

``I feel like I’m 40 right now. Everything on me hurts,″ he said. ``I hope my body will hang in there and stay up with me. There’s some things I used to be able to do.

``I remember in ninth grade I could dunk a basketball. I can barely touch a rim now. I used to be able to just go out and throw without warming up. Now it takes me 20 minutes.″

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