Files released as part of a class-action lawsuit against the NFL revealed that the league has for years been responsible for encouraging players to abuse prescription painkillers, with the suit focusing on the Atlanta Falcons but revealing a problem that may be felt across the league.
Painkillers over pot?
The case – which is being tried in the Northern District of California after being brought by over 1, 800 players- demonstrates that prominent members of the Atlanta Falcons organization were aware of the opioid issue but did nothing to stop it.
It remains unclear whether any league rules were broken or if warnings from inside the organization were ever heeded; however, the issue has the potential to pose major headaches for the organization going forward and cast a shadow on the league’s utilization of prescription painkillers to treat players’ medical conditions.
One email chain paints a troublesome picture: Then-head athletic trainer Marty Lauzon joined the team in 2010 and subsequently wrote to general manager Thomas Dimitroff about a contractor’s review of the team’s medication problem raising serious questions.
The review – conducted by SportPharm on NFL teams’ medication prescription practices – noted that the Falcons exhibited “excessive dispensation” of powerful painkillers and risked establishing a “culture of dependency,” noted Lauzon.
SportPharm also noted that the Falcons organization had spent a staggering $81,000 on players’ medical prescriptions in 2009 alone – a number that almost tripled the average team’s expenditures.
Dimitroff forwarded Lauzon’s warnings to team owner Arthur Blank, who responded that they should meet together with the team’s president at a later date to discuss the issue.
When asked for a response to the release of the emails, Dimitroff said that the organization would not discuss the matter at this time.
The NFL’s reliance on prescription painkillers over the years has been well-documented.
One key study found that 52 percent of retired players claimed to have used prescription pain medication during their time in the league. It also found that retired players misuse opioid painkillers at over four times the rate of the general public.
To combat the rampant abuse of such painkillers, multiple NFL players have stepped forward to push for a change in the league’s rules regarding cannabis.
A group of former players – which included former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon and former New Orleans Saints offensive tackle Kyle Turley – recently gathered at an event in Houston called the Cannabis in Professional Sports forum to advocate for the use of cannabis instead of opioids in players’ treatment – and even using cannabis to wean players off of opioids.
According to former New Orleans Saints tight end Boo Williams, the substance was instrumental in saving his life.
I went through a real bad depression and laid down on the railroad tracks and tried to commit suicide myself so it was just by the grace of God that I found God and found cannabis as well.