DEA Inspections Point To NFL's Prescription Drug Suit

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The federal Drug Enforcement Administration added to the NFL’s PR woes last weekend. Agents surprised five team medical staffs with inspections related to the handling and use of prescription drugs.

ESPN’s John Barr has been writing about prescription painkiller abuse in the NFL for Outside The Lines for the past few years and he joined Bill Littlefield.

BL: John, can other teams expect the federal government to come calling soon?

They live with pain. And many of these former players, as has been reported extensively, live with chronic pain.

John Barr, ESPN

BL: I don’t want to overstate the significance of these inspections. They seem to be mostly a matter of paperwork.  Do these types of technicalities really get to the heart of the problem of prescription drug abuse in the NFL?

JB: Well, probably not and simply because as teams have gotten better about following the law and as doctors have played by the book, so to speak, players are going elsewhere. NFL linemen in particular rely on prescription pain medication to get through the week. They live with pain. And many of these former players, as has been reported extensively, live with chronic pain. And those are the types of individuals who, unfortunately, become susceptible to addiction.

BL: The DEA was responding to a federal lawsuit filed by 10 named plaintiffs, including three members of the 1985 Chicago Bears Super Bowl team. What do those players allege?

[sidebar title="More NFL PR Woes" width="630" align="right"] In a two-part series for the New York Times, investigative sports reporter Steve Eder examined the NFL's handling of domestic abuse cases. Bill Littlefield spoke to Eder about what he found.. [/sidebar]JB: Well, they allege that they were given medications during their playing days, and that the team medical staff failed to adequately disclose to them the dangers and risks of taking the medication. Keith Van Horne, one of those members of the celebrated '85 Chicago Bears Super Bowl team that you mentioned, he alleged that he played with a broken leg for an entire year and was fed a steady diet of pain medication to get through the year. Now fast forward all these years later, a lot of these players are left with debilitating injuries, lingering pain, and some of them, unfortunately, fall into the spiral of addiction.

BL: The NFL has filed a motion for dismissal, but assuming the case is allowed to go forward, are we likely to see thousands more former players suing their former employers?

JB: Well, there are more than 1,300 at the current count. My understanding from speaking with the attorney who's dutifully watching that Excel spreadsheet to see if more names are added — a gentleman by the name of Phil Closius in Baltimore — if the suit isn't tossed out, it likely won't be until the spring that the court determines whether this case will be certified as a class action. So as it stands today more than 1,300 former players have indicated they're ready to sign on, and I would have to believe there will be more.

This segment aired on November 22, 2014.


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