NFL Players Suffer from Overprescription of Opioids

Have all NFL players hopped aboard the “T-Train”? A spring 2017 article by the Washington Post, “NFL abuse of painkillers and other drugs described in court filings’” explores how NFL medical trainers and physicians have been taught to “cover [their] own behind[s]” (Pepper Burruss, Green Bay Packers’ longtime trainer). Former NFL players are accusing their teams of giving them unknown amounts and types of drugs to mask injuries including Vicodin and Toradol, otherwise known as, the “T-Train.”  

According to players’ attorneys, undisclosed dosages are given to NFL players without informing them of the amount that is being given, the type, or side effects. Such actions have caused many retired players to experience addictive carryover into their post-NFL lives. Vicodin and Toradol are the most commonly used pain relievers, but the opioid Vicodin is highly addictive.  In a recent study of 644 retired NFL players, more than 50% used opioids during their careers and 7% were still using opioids during their retirement. It was revealed that the Atlanta Falcons spent approximately $100,000 on prescriptions in one year which is considered 3 times the league average. Many trainers who have become outspoken about the NFL’s misuse of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug and controlled medications have been prohibited from commenting further on their allegations.

The case has been presented as violations of federal drug laws and is pending the conclusion. The former players are not just suing the NFL, but the 32 individual teams that reside within the league.   The Drug Enforcement Administration has attempted to pressure NFL teams to ensure compliance with regulations but has resulted in little reaction from the team trainers and doctors. Many doctors argue that their diagnoses should determine the type and amount of medication that is given to the athlete. The the question remains, “are the physicians looking out for the health of the players, or are they just trying to keep them on the field”? (Arthur Caplan, director of Division of Medical Ethics at New York University’s Lagone Medical Center) The DEA attempted raids in 2014 for controlled substances but failed because according to the Washington Post, “the lawsuit states that NFL teams were tipped off by a DEA employee in advance of the raids.” The resulting matter poses the question stated that each physician should practice medicine, as asked by Matt Matava (the St. Louis Rams’ team doctor), “as he or she feels is in the best interest of the patient.”

Although many conclusions can be made about how many doses per player were given in one year, according to Linda Cottler (founding chair of the Department of Epidemiology), “there’s also a lot of information we still don’t know.” The use of Toradol is still rampant in the NFL and there have not been any immediate changes that have directly affected the use of painkillers. Attorneys are collecting more and more evidence to support the claims that the NFL is abusing their medical authority for the case to be made in October.