As the NFL continues to prepare a settlement in the landmark concussion case filed by former players, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration is settling in on an investigation on whether the league has been illegally providing players with prescription painkillers.
Michael O'Keeffe of the New York Daily News broke the story over the weekend, citing three sources close to the situation. The DEA is specifically looking into how players have gotten access to these potentially addictive drugs and whether NFL locker rooms are following proper protocol.
The investigation is currently in its "early stages," per Susan Candiotti of CNN.
The DEA probe comes on the heels of a class-action lawsuit filed by more than 1,300 former NFL players claiming malfeasance. The filing claims trainers and doctors illegally provided players with powerful pain medication—Percodan and Vicodin being chief among those named—without informing them of potential damage.
"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," Steven Silverman, attorney for the players, told reporters in May.
Players specifically allege a widespread abuse of painkillers when attempting to force players back into game action. O'Keeffe's report highlights Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent, who has permanent nerve damage in his foot after being put on painkillers to keep him on the field despite a break.
Former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon is also among the players named. McMahon, who has early onset dementia, has been open with his battle with drug and alcohol addiction. He claims to have been taking more than 100 pills per month at the height of his addiction.
"The NFL continues to make billions and billions of dollars every year," McMahon told the Associated Press last month, via ESPN.com. "And some of these guys are homeless. They don't know who they are, and they were the ones who built this brand to where it's at."
There have been numerous other instances wherein former players have been open with their drug dependencies. Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers lineman Randy Grimes said in 2009 that there was "no accountability" in NFL locker rooms regarding drug use, per O'Keeffe. Trainers and doctors would either prescribe or hand them out freely without going into detail about their addictive side effects.
"The trainers and the doctors used to go down the aisle and say, 'Who needs what?'" former NFL offensive lineman Kyle Turley told ESPN Outside the Lines' John Barr. "If you had something hurting and needed a painkiller to take the edge off so you could sleep that night, they made sure you had it."
Candiotti's report notes the DEA will specifically look to track distribution records of the drugs. The DEA will have the power to file requests for internal medical records, request testimony under oath from NFL officials and dig into the matter on a criminal basis. Depending on what is found in the investigation, those found to have offended drug laws may face charges.
Earlier this month, the NFL received a preliminary approval on its $765 million settlement with former players regarding past concussion practices. The settlement was previously rejected in federal court due to a monetary cap placed at $675 million. Under the new agreement, there is no monetary cap.
There is currently no trial date for the former players' prescription drug lawsuit. The NFL has denied comment since the filing.
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