Report: Feds Launch Investigation Into Prescription Drug Abuse In NFL

CREDIT: Associated Press/John Swart

Former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon during a game in 1985; McMahon is one of eight plaintiffs in a new lawsuit against the NFL.

After former NFL players filed a class action lawsuit in May alleging that the league and its teams illegally supplied them with prescription painkillers and other drugs, the Drug Enforcement Agency launched an investigation into the NFL’s drug practices, according to a report from the New York Daily News.

The nine former players, headlined by former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, alleged that the NFL “intentionally, recklessly and negligently created and maintained a culture of drug misuse, substituting players’ health for profit” in the lawsuit, and that the league and its teams did so without warning players of the dangers of the drugs or properly informing them of the injuries they suffered. The league “fraudulently concealed these dangers from its players to keep them on the field when they shouldn’t have been,” the suit alleged.

In response, the DEA’s New York division began talking to former players about the culture of drug use in the NFL and how doctors were able to get non-steroidal anti-inflammatories and other painkillers mentioned in the lawsuit, according to the Daily News. One source told the paper that the investigators “want to find out who provided and distributed the drugs to football players.”

The lawsuit from McMahon et al. is the second major legal claim involving prescription drugs against the NFL. In 2011, a dozen former players alleged in a lawsuit that the league illegally provided them with Toradol, a powerful and controversial anti-inflammatory. As in this suit, the players claimed that team trainers and doctors did not warn them of the drug’s side effects. A 2013 Washington Post survey found that more than half of NFL players had used Toradol; another survey of former players found that 52 percent said they had used prescription painkillers during their careers and that 71 percent of those who used the drugs had abused them.

A DEA spokesperson told the Daily News that she was not aware of an investigation into the league’s practices but that the agency is involved in widespread efforts to combat prescription drug abuse.

A federal judge last week granted preliminary approval to a settlement between the NFL and more than 4,500 former players who sued the league over its handling and treatment of concussions. But if this suit and possible investigation are any indication, the league is about to face even more scrutiny over how it has treated its players.