By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Former San Diego Chargers football star Junior Seau had no alcohol or illegal drugs in his system when he killed himself earlier this year, according to a final autopsy report released by medical examiners on Monday.
Seau, a 20-year National Football League veteran and fan favorite widely regarded as one of the best defensive players of his generation, shot himself in the chest on May 2 at his home in Southern California. He left no suicide note.
Though preliminary findings by the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed that Seau had committed suicide, the 16-page report provides more comprehensive results and includes toxicology and other scientific tests.
The toxicology studies found therapeutic levels of a prescription sleep aid and a pain reliever in Seau's system but "no alcohol, common drugs of abuse or other medications."
Seau's death at the age of 43 came during heightened scrutiny of the effects of repeated blows to the head in football, ice hockey and other contact sports and the potential for such injuries to contribute to depression and other health problems in players.
The report said brain tissue from Seau was sent following the autopsy to the National Institutes of Health for analysis at the request of his family. It does not describe any evidence of brain damage or abnormalities.
Seau's death marked at least the third suicide by a former NFL player since February 2011, when ex-Chicago Bears defensive back Dave Duerson killed himself with a gunshot to the chest after complaining of headaches, blurred vision and memory loss.
More than 2,000 former NFL players and spouses have sued the NFL, saying it deliberately concealed the risk of brain damage from repeated blows to the head suffered by players.
The NFL has called the suit groundless, saying it has long made player safety a priority and calling attention to its benefits programs for former players.
The league has focused in recent seasons on health and safety issues. It has cracked down on hits to the head and stiffened rules that bar players from using their helmets as a weapon through head-first contact, which is subject to fines and suspension for repeat offenders.
According to an investigative narrative included with the final autopsy report on Seau's death, he was last seen alive at about 7:45 a.m. on May 2, when his girlfriend left to go to the gym. She returned about two hours later to find him lying on a bed in a guest room with a gunshot wound to the chest.
(Reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Paul Simao)