WELLINGTON - Sleeping pill abuse is emerging as a major problem among elite athletes and rugby union cannot afford to ignore the issue, All Blacks coach Steve Hansen warned on Monday.
Hansen was speaking after the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) revealed last week that All Blacks Cory Jane and Israel Dagg took prescription sleeping pills while on a night out in Auckland during the 2011 World Cup.
He said such behaviour was particularly concerning when the pills were mixed with energy drinks - a combination that reportedly achieves an amphetamine-like high without breaching doping rules.
"The sleeping pills and the fizzy drink and the alcohol, if you keep continually doing it, is going to be harmful," Hansen told commercial radio.
"Long term it's not going to be a great thing for the athlete, and short term it can also create one or two problems with how they behave. That's not the way the All Blacks want to live."
Australia's National Rugby League said last week that it was introducing tests for sleeping pills amid rising concerns about their abuse.
The move followed warnings issued to several New Zealand players about mixing sleeping pills and energy drinks at last year's Rugby League World Cup in England, where the Kiwis reached the final only to go down 34-2 in a lacklustre display.
In addition, Australian swimming great Grant Hackett sought treatment last month for addiction to sleeping medication Stilnox.
The same drug was at the centre of a scandal involving the Australian men's swim relay team at the London 2012 Olympics, when they used it at a "bonding session" and misbehaved at their living quarters.
Hansen acknowledged that the All Blacks' gruelling schedule was like being on a "ferris wheel", but said they needed to be educated about finding less harmful ways to wind down.
He said when Jane and Dagg were initially caught, the scale of the problem across the sporting world was not clear.
"At that point, we thought it was an isolated incident and didn't see it as a big issue. It's now become apparent that's not the case in other sports," he said.
"So are we going to be naive and ostriches and keep our heads in the sand, saying it couldn't be happening in our sport?"
Jane said on Monday that he could remember nothing about his infamous night out in 2011, describing the experience as "embarrassing" and "scary" - but insisted he did not intend to abuse the medication and had not mixed it with energy drinks.
The winger said he and Dagg took two pills each - intending to go to bed - but made a last-minute decision to get something to eat nearby.
"I didn't even know we'd gone out. All I remember is getting something for dinner then waking up the next morning," he told Fairfax New Zealand.