DEA Investigating Drug Use in the National Fooball League

The Drug Enforcement Administration’s probe began after attorneys representing about 1,300 NFL retirees filed a lawsuit accusing the league of illegally handing out painkillers, sleeping pills and other drugs without informing players of the risks of health problems and addiction.

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Saturday, July 12, 2014
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Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon and other plaintiffs accuse the NFL of illegally providing prescription drugs without telling players about the risks. McMahon says he became hooked on pain pills, at one point gulping down more than 100 Percocets each month. 
Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon and other plaintiffs accuse the NFL of illegally providing prescription drugs without telling players about the risks. McMahon says he became hooked on pain pills, at one point gulping down more than 100 Percocets each month. Photo: George Rose/Getty Images

The NFL, still reeling from allegations that it covered up the long-term dangers of concussions, is now facing a possible blitz from federal drug agents looking into the abuse of painkillers and other drugs.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has quietly launched an investigation into the abuse of prescription medication in NFL locker rooms, three sources familiar with the probe told the Daily News.

Agents from the DEA’s New York division are reaching out to former players to learn how NFL doctors and trainers get access to potent narcotics such as Percodan and Vicodin or anti-inflammatories such as Toradol, a nonaddictive prescription drug widely used around the league to treat pain.

“They want to find out who provided and distributed the drugs to football players,” one source said.

The DEA’s investigation began shortly after attorneys representing about 1,300 NFL retirees filed a class-action lawsuit in San Francisco federal court on May 20 that accuses the league of illegally providing prescription drugs to keep players on the field without informing them of the long-term risks. The nine named plaintiffs include Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon and his former teammate, Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent, as well as Pro Bowl defensive end Marcellus Wiley, now an ESPN analyst.

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Percodan, a combination of oxycodone and aspirin used to treat pain and inflammation, and other potent narcotics were frequently distributed in NFL locker rooms, according to a lawsuit filed on behalf of about 1,300 NFL retirees. Photo by Benedek/Getty Images/Hemera

“The allegations in our lawsuit, that the NFL has violated state and federal drug laws, have been confirmed by over 1,300 former NFL players,” Steve Silverman, an attorney for the former players, told The News on Friday. “We are pleased to learn that the DEA and United States Department of Justice are also taking our clients’ allegations seriously and are actively protecting the welfare of NFL players.”

The drugs numbed pain, allowing hurt players to return to the field, but they also led to aggravated injuries and created long-term health problems, the lawsuit claims.

The suit filed by Silverman and his colleagues is a catalogue of horrors. Court papers show team doctors and trainers widely distributed painkillers, sleeping pills and other drugs without warning players about the risk of addiction or the dangers of mixing powerful medications. McMahon, according to the lawsuit, became hooked on pain pills, at one point gulping down more than 100 Percocets each month, even in the offseason.

The drugs numbed pain, allowing hurt players to return to the field, but they also led to aggravated injuries and created long-term health problems, the lawsuit claims.

Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent says he played eight games with a broken foot while taking medication to numb the pain, and now he suffers from nerve damage.Focus On Sport/Getty ImagesHall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent says he played eight games with a broken foot while taking medication to numb the pain, and now he suffers from nerve damage.

Keith Van Horne, another McMahon teammate on the Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl championship team, played an entire season with a broken leg, thanks to what the lawsuit calls “a constant diet of pills to deal with the pain.”

Dent suffers from permanent nerve damage because he played eight games of a season with a broken foot, thanks to painkillers, rather than undergoing surgery.

The lawsuit said ex-49ers center Jeremy Newberry suffers from serious kidney failure, high blood pressure and violent headaches as the result of the drugs he received while playing in the NFL.

“One former trainer has described the 1980s and 1990s as ‘wild west’ in terms of the NFL monitoring the medications provided to its players,” the suit said. The allegations in the lawsuit echo earlier reports about prescription drug abuse by The News and other media outlets.

Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers lineman Randy Grimes, for example, told The News in a 2009 story chronicling his successful effort to overcome his painkiller addiction that doctors passed out medication freely, and that players routinely broke into the team drug cabinet to help themselves.

Vicodin pills are displayed Thursday, Nov. 14, 2002, in Indianpolis. The law requires pharmacists to send state police the names of those receiving potentially addictive drugs, along with what drug they are taking, how many pills they receive and the names of their doctors. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Tim Halcomb)   Original Filename: nynyd1_6518204.jpgTIM HALCOMB/APVicodin pills are displayed Thursday, Nov. 14, 2002, in Indianpolis. The law requires pharmacists to send state police the names of those receiving potentially addictive drugs, along with what drug they are taking, how many pills they receive and the names of their doctors. (AP Photo/The Indianapolis Star, Tim Halcomb) Original Filename: nynyd1_6518204.jpg Enlarge
Ketorolac tromethamine (Toradol)Photo Researchers/Getty ImagesKetorolac tromethamine (Toradol) Enlarge

Vicodin and Toradol are used for pain.

“We’d take handfuls of stuff out of there,” Grimes said. “There was no accountability.”

Ex-Jets quarterback Ray Lucas, meanwhile, told The News in 2010 that he turned to street drugs after the NFL to deal with pain from football-related injuries in his neck and back. He said he developed an extraordinarily high tolerance for pain medication due to the amount of drugs he used during his NFL career.

Keith Van Horne of the Chicago Bears says he played a whole season with a broken leg, thanks to what the lawsuit calls 'a constant diet of pills to deal with the pain.'Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesKeith Van Horne of the Chicago Bears says he played a whole season with a broken leg, thanks to what the lawsuit calls ‘a constant diet of pills to deal with the pain.’

The DEA investigation is good news for the players involved in the suit because the feds may uncover evidence unavailable to lawyers pursuing a civil suit, says Robert Boland, a former prosecutor, criminal defense attorney and sports agent. He’s now the academic chairman of New York University’s Tisch Center for Sports Management.

The NFL declined to comment on the DEA investigation. A spokesman for the Players Association did not respond to an email about the federal inquiry.

A DEA spokeswoman, Erin Mulvey, said she was not aware of an investigation into prescription drug abuse in NFL locker rooms. Speaking generally, she said the DEA is involved in efforts to reduce painkiller abuse because officials believe it has contributed to an increase in heroin use, she said.

Allegations of rampant locker-room prescription drug abuse are part of a broader battle over players’ long-term health. A federal judge in Philadelphia gave preliminary approval last week to a settlement that would remove a cap on compensation for players who suffered concussions and other traumatic brain injuries.

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Ex-Jets quarterback Ray Lucas says he turned to street drugs to cope with injuries when he left the NFL and developed a high tolerance for pain medications due to the amount of drugs he used during his football career. Photo: Linda Cataffo/new york daily news

Also, NFL retirees have long complained that the disability program the league operates jointly with the Players Association seems designed to reject claims by players physically debilitated by football-related injuries. The NFL, many former players argue, has turned its back on the men who helped turn it into a $9 billion-a-year industry.

“Drug addiction is part of a list of issues players struggle with as they make the transition to retirement,” Boland said.

Boland said that while there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggests team officials and medical staff encouraged players to abuse prescription drugs, it will be difficult to prove that league officials played a role.

“I don’t think the NFL loves the fact that there is a drug investigation,” Boland said. “But in the end, the NFL may be able to successfully say this is a club matter.”

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/sports/i-team/feds-probe-prescription-drug-abuse-nfl-locker-rooms-sources-article-1.1864651#ixzz37MmEZANT

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