In May 2014, eight former NFL players filed a class-action lawsuit in a San Francisco federal court. The suit, which has since been joined by 500 other former players, alleges that NFL doctors and trainers illegally provided them with powerful pain medications in order to ensure that the players could return to the field. The suit claims that NFL doctors would obtain hundreds of pills by writing prescriptions for several players. These medications would then be dispensed illegally by trainers to players. The suit states that players were never warned of the drugs’ potential side effects, including the potential for addiction. Some players even suffered from broken legs, but they were provided pain medications in order that they could play in games. The suit states, “Rather than allowing players the opportunity to rest and heal, the NFL has illegally and unethically substituted pain medications for proper health car to keep the NFL’s tsunami of dollars flowing.”
Former NFL player J.D. Hill, a class member and plaintiff in the lawsuit, claimed that the illegal pain medications led him down the road to addiction. As a player, he received all the pain pills he wanted. However, when he retired, the steady supply was cut off, and he turned to street drugs and eventually became homeless. Hill stated, “As a player, you get all of these drugs for free over the years of your career. Then suddenly you are released and the free supply stops overnight. Many players are addicted and turn to street dealers for the drugs formerly provided by the NFL. This then leads to other problems such as cocaine or heroin use, bankruptcy and prison.
Jeremy Newberry, a former defensive lineman, stated that he received powerful anti-inflammatory medications to mask his injuries. He recalled how trainers would inject him with these medications before every game. As a result, Newberry stated he now suffers from kidney failure, excruciating headaches and high blood pressure.
Dr. William Focazio, founder of Pain Alternatives, Solutions and Treatment, said that he has worked with many former NFL players who became addicted to painkillers. Focazio remarked, “Every player I get has told me they were given white envelopes with pills and were told, ‘This one is for pain; this one is for sleep.’ Many of them have severe addiction problems.”
Focazio also stated that the pain medications only masked symptoms of the root causes of many players’ injuries and were never properly treated. Focazio stated, “Pain tells us when it is time to rest and recover, and when you mask it, you exacerbate injuries. The injuries we treat are much worse than they should have been because the league let these guys play when they should have been resting.”
In addition to seeking undisclosed financial damages, the suit asked the court to issue an injunction to force the NFL to put a program into place to monitor players’ use of pain medications.
Website Resource: Former players sue NFL, claim league illegally gave painkillers to mask injuries, which led to addiction, NY Daily News, Michael O’Keeffe, May 20, 2014
Ex-players: NFL illegally used drugs, AP, ESPN