The NFL’s Prescription Drug Problem

I encountered a friend and famous Viking defensive lineman one Sunday morning before a game. He was not walking well. He said, “When it hurts Sunday from last Sunday, it’s time to think about doing something else!!” 

Football is a violent game and pain is the constant.  Medication is required and its use is problematic, as the following article claims. 

National Football League teams violated federal laws governing prescription drugs, disregarded guidance from the Drug Enforcement Administration on how to store, track, transport and distribute controlled substances, and plied their players with powerful painkillers and anti-inflammatories each season, according to sealed court documents contained in a federal lawsuit filed by former players.

The sealed material, which was reviewed by The Washington Post, provides a rare look into the league’s relationship with drugs and how team doctors manage the pain inherent in a bruising sport to keep players on the field.

Federal law lays out strict guidelines for how teams can handle and dispense prescription drugs. The sealed court filing, which includes testimony and documents by team and league medical personnel, describes multiple instances in which team and league officials were made aware of abuses, record-keeping problems and even violations of federal law and were either slow in responding or failed to comply.

The filing, which was prepared by lawyers for the players suing the league, asserts that “every doctor deposed so far … has testified that they violated one or more” federal drug laws and regulations “while serving in their capacity as a team doctor.” Anthony Yates, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ team doctor and past president of the NFL Physicians Society, testified in a deposition that “a majority of clubs as of 2010 had trainers controlling and handling prescription medications and controlled substances when they should not have,” the filing states.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the allegations contained in the court filing “are meritless and the league and its clubs will continue to vigorously defend these claims.

“The NFL clubs and their medical staffs are all in compliance with the Controlled Substances Act,” McCarthy said in an email. “… The NFL clubs and their medical staffs continue to put the health and safety of our players first, providing all NFL players with the highest quality medical care. Any claim or suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong.”

The details and communications were unearthed by lawyers representing more than 1,800 former professional football players who are suing the league in U.S. District Court for Northern California, claiming they suffer long-term organ and joint damage, among other maladies, as a result of improper and deceptive drug distribution practices by NFL teams.

The material was collected by the players’ attorneys as part of the discovery process in the case. The attorneys redacted large portions of the 127-page complaint because both parties had agreed to do so under a court-approved protective order, sealing it from public view. The Post was able to review the redacted information because of an apparent technical error in the filing process but not some of the supporting exhibits and documents.

The filing solely reflects the ex-players’ claims against the NFL’s 32 teams, presenting their legal arguments and evidence to the court.

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