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Lawsuit Alleges NFL Handed Out Painkillers Illegally To Keep Players Playing

Mel Renfro (left) is among hundreds of former players suing the NFL over its use of painkillers. CREDIT: (AP PHOTO/TONY GUTIERREZ)
Mel Renfro (left) is among hundreds of former players suing the NFL over its use of painkillers. CREDIT: (AP PHOTO/TONY GUTIERREZ)

Hundreds of former NFL players filed a lawsuit on Thursday claiming that the NFL and its teams illegally distributed painkillers to keep them on the field in a way that jeopardized their health, the Associated Press reported. The suit claims that “all 32 NFL teams, their doctors, trainers and medical staffs” distributed painkillers to players, often illegally.

The players filed suit in the U.S. Northern District Court of Maryland, according to the AP. It follows a similar suit, filed last year, in which eight former players alleged that the NFL illegally distributed painkillers to players. That suit alleged that players “received hundreds, if not thousands, of injections from doctors and pills from trainers” without full knowledge of the extent of their injuries or how those injuries and the drugs might affect their long-term health. A judge dismissed the suit, which accused the NFL of negligence, in December on grounds that labor law and the league’s collective bargaining agreement pre-empted legal action.

“This lawsuit alleges intentional activity by the teams, not negligence,” Steve Silverman, the plaintiffs’ attorney in the new suit, told the AP. “It’s another part of a unified effort to provide health care and compensation to the thousands of former players who have been permanently injured or died as a result of playing professional football.”

One survey of former players conducted last year found that 52 percent used prescription pain medication during their careers, and 71 percent of those who said they used drugs abused them. More than 60 percent said they received the drugs from someone other than a doctor, a category that in the survey included trainers and coaches.

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Federal agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency investigated the traveling parties of multiple NFL teams in November to search for irregularities in their handling of prescription drugs. The NFL said then that the agents found nothing of note.

The NFL quietly made changes to its prescription painkiller policy this off-season. In an apparent effort to stay within the Controlled Substances Act, it will no longer allow teams to store prescription drugs within their stadiums, while visiting teams will have to obtain drugs through a physician from the local area.