Court Documents: NFL Knowingly Abused Painkillers

The National Football League has knowingly violated federal drug laws on a regular basis by giving its players painkillers and anti-inflammatories—and dismissing DEA guidance about distributing controlled substances, a Washington Post investigation has found. The Post obtained sealed court documents filed by former players that reveal many teams’ unhealthy and illegal relationship with prescription drugs in order to keep its hurting players on the field. The filing claims that “every doctor deposed so far... has testified that they violated one or more” federal drug laws “while serving in their capacity as a team doctor.” Some of the records indicate a blatant disregard for the law, including an August 2009 email from Cincinnati Bengals head trainer Paul Sparling, in which he wrote, “Can you have your office fax a copy of your DEA certificate to me? I need it for my records when the NFL ‘pill counters’ come to see if we are doing things right. Don’t worry, I’m pretty good at keeping them off the trail!” Internal NFL records reportedly show that in 2012 the average NFL team prescribed about 5,777 doses of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. “It sounds like an incredible amount of intervention with some pretty risky drugs, some of which, in the case of Vicodin, have a high addiction potential,” said Arthur Caplan, who co-founded the NYU Sports and Society Program. “It makes you think, are the physicians looking out for the health of the players, or are they just trying to keep them on the field?” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the allegations contained in the court filing “are meritless and the league and its clubs will continue to vigorously defend these claims.”