Former players have asserted that NFL teams violated federal prescription drug laws, The Washington Post reported on Thursday after it reviewed sealed court documents from a federal lawsuit filed by the ex-players.
According to the report, the documents describe how teams disregarded guidance from the Drug Enforcement Administration on how to handle and distribute controlled substances.
The sealed documents — prepared by lawyers representing more than 1,800 former players suing the league in United States District Court in Northern California — included descriptions of several instances where team and league officials were either slow in their responses or simply failed to comply with guidelines when made aware of abuses, record-keeping problems and violations of federal law, according to the report. The filing included testimony and documents from team and league personnel, the report said, including team doctors.
The plaintiffs are suing each of the 32 NFL teams, not the league itself.
A spokesman for the NFL was quoted in the report saying that the allegations in the court filing were “meritless.”
The league has come under scrutiny in recent years for its approach to the well-being of past and present players.
December 2016, the Supreme Court dealt a blow to retired players by denying a request to review the league’s settlement of a lawsuit that accused the NFL of hiding the dangers of head trauma. That settlement — potentially worth as much as $1 billion and providing some players with payments of up to $5 million — covers nearly every former player for the next 65 years.
It is not the first time NFL players’ use of painkillers has come into the spotlight. A 2011 study by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found that, of 644 retired NFL players surveyed, 52 percent said they had used prescription pain medication while playing. Of those players, 71 percent said they had misused the drugs. And 7 percent said they were still using opioids in retirement, a rate that was three times higher than the general population.
In 2010, San Diego Chargers safety Kevin Ellison was caught at a traffic stop with around 100 Vicodin pills. In 2013, Jason Taylor, a former All-Pro defensive end, explained to The Miami Herald how dependent he had become on pain killers throughout his career. Taylor said he took Toradol shots before games, as well as other painkillers and sleeping pills. He also offered a series of anecdotes — including one in which he described how he stuffed a towel in his mouth to muffle screams as he received pain-easing shots in the bottoms of his feet, and once almost needed to have a leg amputated.
The NFL’s collective bargaining agreement with the players’ union makes it difficult for cases to reach the discovery stage when damages are being sought from the league on behalf of players; such cases are usually settled through other means.