Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Ex-players say NFL teams' use of painkillers broke drug laws

FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2013, file photo, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes (29) is attended to by head trainer Eric Sugarman duriing the second half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. Documents unsealed in a lawsuit by 1,800 former NFL players provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how team and league medical personnel distributed powerful painkillers to players. According to a Jan. 17, 2008 e-mail from Sugarman to team doctors and medical personnel, that was unsealed Friday, March 10, 2017, medications like Ambien, a sedative, and Toradol, a post-surgical painkiller, were distributed to players and not accurately tracked by the team???‚??„?s dispensing records. An NFL spokesman said, ???‚??“clubs and their medical staffs are all in compliance with the Controlled Substances Act. ... Any claim or suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong.???‚?? (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File) NY174

FILE - In this Nov. 3, 2013, file photo, Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes (29) is attended to by head trainer Eric Sugarman duriing the second half of an NFL football game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. Documents unsealed in a lawsuit by 1,800 former NFL players provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how team and league medical personnel distributed powerful painkillers to players. According to a Jan. 17, 2008 e-mail from Sugarman to team doctors and medical personnel, that was unsealed Friday, March 10, 2017, medications like Ambien, a sedative, and Toradol, a post-surgical painkiller, were distributed to players and not accurately tracked by the team???‚??„?s dispensing records. An NFL spokesman said, ???‚??“clubs and their medical staffs are all in compliance with the Controlled Substances Act. ... Any claim or suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong.???‚?? (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File) NY174

Documents unsealed in a lawsuit by 1,800 former NFL players provide a behind-the-scenes glimpse at how team and league medical personnel plied players with powerful painkillers for years, often in apparent violation of federal drug laws.

The lawsuit being heard by U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup in the northern district of California has been moving through the court system for more than two years. Alsup ruled last July to begin discovery, allowing plaintiffs' lawyers to interview potential witnesses and gather documents such as e-mails and memos from the teams related to the case.

The documents appear to show a cavalier attitude toward the storage, transport and distribution of controlled substances, as well as prescription medicines, which the lawsuit contends were often obtained illegally.

"Here is week 17's fiasco," began a Jan. 17, 2008 e-mail from Minnesota Vikings head trainer Eric Sugarman to team doctors and medical personnel. "The following items did not match up this week. …"

His e-mail goes on to detail how medications like Ambien, a sedative, and Toradol, a post-surgical painkiller, were distributed to players and not accurately tracked by the team's dispensing records.

"1. Total of 16 Ambien given out was recorded — however only 11 Ambien were missing from the kit. 2. Total of 21 Toradol shots were recorded — however only 20 Toradol shots were missing from the kit. 3. Total of 1 Diphenhydramine shots were missing with no record of dispensing."

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said in an email to the Washington Post, which obtained a copy of the documents before they were unsealed, that the "clubs and their medical staffs are all in compliance with the Controlled Substances Act. … Any claim or suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong."

Yet several of exhibits gathered by the plaintiffs' lawyers regarding past behavior by the teams appear to contradict the league's statement.

"Can you have your office fax a copy of your DEA certificate to me?" Paul Sparling, the Cincinnati Bengals' head trainer wrote in a 2009 email. "I need it for my records when the NFL 'pill counters' come to see if we are doing things right. Don't worry, I'm pretty good at keeping them off the trail!"

The number of painkillers and other prescription-strength medications given to players during 2012, according to a March 2013 league document from NFL medical adviser Lawrence Brown, would average out to six or seven pain pills or injections per player per week. Brown concluded the average team prescribed nearly 5,800 doses of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and 2,200 doses of controlled medications to its players.

"The documents, emails and testimony referenced in the complaint are the tip of the iceberg," lead plaintiffs' attorney Steve Silverman said.

In addition to alleging repeated violations of the federal Controlled Substances Act, the lawsuit contends players were routinely given drugs without information or regard for their long-term health.

"And they achieve their ends through a business plan in which every Club employee — general managers, coaches, doctors, trainers and players — has a financial interest in returning players to the game as soon as possible," the lawsuit claims. "Everyone's job and salary depend on this simple fact."

The lawsuit also notes that NFL officials made a number of efforts to bring teams into compliance with federal law. The league warned them to exert strict control over distribution of medications and tighten-up record-keeping procedures, hiring an independent agency called SportPharm to provide auditing standards and manage the process.

"Physicians should prescribe controlled substances in a manner that is consistent with the standard of the medical community … not the NFL medical community," then-league medical adviser Dr. Ellliot Pellman wrote in a Sept. 20, 2010 e-mail to the trainers of the Steelers and Broncos.

The NFL also consulted on several occasions with the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, which staged a surprise game-day investigation of at least a half-dozen visiting teams in 2014 to learn whether those teams' medical staffs were travelling with controlled substances. None were found in violation of federal laws, though the lawsuit contends a DEA employee tipped the teams off in advance.

But the court documents also reveal doubts raised by team and league physicians and medical staff about the seriousness of those efforts even before the DEA surprise search.

"I expect no immediate guidance from Dr. Brown or Dr. Pellman," longtime Packers trainer Pepper Burruss wrote his Steelers counterpart in May 2010, "other than 'cover your own behind.' "

Ex-players say NFL teams' use of painkillers broke drug laws 03/11/17 [Last modified: Friday, March 10, 2017 9:28pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

Copyright: For copyright information, please check with the distributor of this item, Associated Press.
    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rowdies settle for draw at home

    Soccer

    ST. PETERSBURG — The good news for the Rowdies is that they still haven't lost a game at Al Lang Stadium since late April. The bad news is they had to settle for a 1-1 tie against Ottawa on Saturday night in front of 6,710 sweaty fans.

  2. Bats come to life, but Rays' freefall continues (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG —The six runs seemed like a ton, just the second time the Rays had scored that many in a game during their numbing two-plus-weeks stretch of offensive impotency, and amazingly, the first time at the Trop in nearly two months.

    Lucas Duda connects for a two-run home run in the sixth, getting the Rays within 7-5. A Logan Morrison home run in the ninth made it 7-6, but Tampa Bay couldn’t complete the comeback.
  3. Rays journal: Cesar Puello, who has one major-league game, claimed off waivers

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Looking to add punch to their right-handed lineup, the Rays claimed OF Cesar Puello off waivers Saturday from the Angels.

  4. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Saturday's Rays-Mariners game

    The Heater

    SS Adeiny Hechavarria doesn't always look like he's going hard, but he showed impressive reactions Saturday in reversing field to catch a ball that clanked off the catwalk then firing to second to double up Guillermo Heredia on an attempt to tag up.