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Ex-players say NFL illegally used painkillers

Tuesday, May 20, 2014 12:38 PM
Last updated 7:22 PM
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WASHINGTON — A group of retired NFL players says in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the league, thirsty for profits, illegally supplied them with risky narcotics and other painkillers that numbed their injuries for games and led to medical complications down the road.

The league obtained and administered the drugs illegally, without prescriptions and without warning players of their potential side effects, to speed the return of injured players to the field and maximize profits, the lawsuit alleges. Players say they were never told about broken legs and ankles and instead were fed pills to mask the pain. One says that instead of surgery, he was given anti-inflammatories and skipped practices so he could play in money-making games. And others say that after years of free pills from the NFL, they retired from the league addicted to the painkillers.

Steven Silverman, attorney for the players, said the complaint was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, and a copy was shared with The Associated Press ahead of the filing.

The complaint names eight players, including three members of the Super Bowl champion 1985 Chicago Bears: Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent, offensive lineman Keith Van Horne, and quarterback Jim McMahon. Lawyers seek class-action status, and they say in the filing that more than 400 other former players have signed on to the lawsuit.

McMahon says in the lawsuit that he suffered a broken neck and ankle during his career but rather than sitting out, he received medications and was pushed back on to the field. Team doctors and trainers never told him about the injuries, according to the lawsuit.

McMahon also became addicted to painkillers, at one point taking more than 100 Percocet pills per month, even in the offseason, the lawsuit says. Team-employed doctors and trainers illegally administered the drugs, the lawsuit alleges, because they didn’t get prescriptions, keep records or explain side effects.

Van Horne played an entire season on a broken leg and wasn’t told about the injury for five years, “during which time he was fed a constant diet of pills to deal with the pain,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a landmark case that accused the league of concealing known risks from players’ concussions. The NFL settled that case for $765 million. No blame was assessed and players received no punitive damages.

Among the eight named plaintiffs, six were also plaintiffs in concussion-related litigation, including McMahon and Van Horne.

The latest lawsuit seeks an injunction creating an NFL-funded testing and monitoring program to help prevent addiction and injuries and disabilities related to the use of painkillers. It also seeks unspecified financial damages.

“The NFL knew of the debilitating effects of these drugs on all of its players and callously ignored the players’ long-term health in its obsession to return them to play,” Silverman said. His Baltimore firm, Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin and White, also represents former National Hockey League players in a concussion-related lawsuit.

Former offensive lineman Jeremy Newberry describes lining up in the San Francisco 49ers’ locker room with other players to receive powerful anti-inflammatory injections in their buttocks shortly before kickoff. Newberry played for San Francisco from 1998-2006, including one season in which played in every game but never practiced because of pain from his injuries, according to the lawsuit.

He retired in 2009, and because of the drugs he took while playing, he now suffers from renal failure, high blood pressure and violent headaches, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status for any former players who received narcotic painkillers, anti-inflammatories, local anesthetics, sleeping aids or other drugs without prescription, independent diagnosis, or warning about side effects or the dangers from mixing with other drugs.

“I was provided uppers, downers, painkillers, you name it while in the NFL,” plaintiff J.D. Hill, who played for seven years in the 1970s, said in a statement. “I became addicted and turned to the streets after my career and was homeless. Never took a drug in my life, and I became a junkie in the NFL.”

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my.voice 05/20/14 - 08:29 pm
Personal Responsibility

Did they tie you to a chair and force this on you? GROW UP!

burninater 05/20/14 - 09:49 pm
Personal responsibility?

If the lawsuit claims are correct, players were given these medications by DOCTORS who 1) lied to their patients' about their injuries, and 2) misrepresented the potential complications arising from their treatments.

Yes, there are people who are personally responsible -- the people that were employed and licensed to practice medicine, and didn't do so.

You're claiming it was athletes, not doctors, that were responsibly competent to diagnose medical conditions, and then provide ethical and appropriate treatments for those conditions?


corgimom 05/20/14 - 10:00 pm
Burn, use your common sense.

Burn, use your common sense.

If you had such extreme pain that you were taking 100 Percocet pills per month, wouldn't you say "I think something is very wrong with me, I'm going to go to another doctor"?

They wanted to play. They wanted the big paychecks, and the fame, and the glory.

And now they want to blame all their problems on somebody else.

It is well-known that football players get injured, and retire with a damaged body. But they do it any way- and then complain later on and blame the owners?

redapples 05/20/14 - 10:20 pm
Shameful, just plain

Shameful, just plain shameful. We have become a society of irresponsible, government dependent, opportunists.

itsanotherday1 05/20/14 - 10:45 pm
Sounds like somebody is

Sounds like somebody is trying to hitch a ride on the gravy train. If doctors hid the injuries and cleared players on that basis, there may be a case; but as CM said, you are taking a boatload of narcotics and just go along with it? Come On, MAN!

my.voice 05/20/14 - 11:05 pm
@burn --- I am drop dead

@burn --- I am drop dead serious. We sue tobacco companies because smoking causes cancer, gun makers because idiots shoot one another, and now this.

Nobody strapped these GROWN MEN down and forced them to take drugs. It's time to turn this tide back to whence it came. Simply put, stop blaming others for your decisions.

myfather15 05/21/14 - 05:22 am
my voice

I'll go a step farther!! No one strapped them down and made them play football either!! Nobody held a gun to their heads and said "You play football or die!!" These people still had free will choices in THEIR LIVES. When they were playing, KNOWING there was at least SOMETHING wrong, they chose to play!! No, they can't do their own x-rays, scans and MRI's and read the results themselves; but they certainly know when they're hurting too bad to continue. They willfully took the medications and CHOSE to continue playing. Maybe they made the choice with bad information about their injuries, but they still CHOSE to walk back on the field, no one forced them.

Does this mean that if I'm chasing a suspect at work and step in a hole, break my leg, then take pain killers and get addicted; that I can sue the Sheriff's Office for me being addicted?

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