Last Updated on October 30, 2017 by Inspire Malibu
In San Francisco last month, more than 600 former NFL players, led in part by hall of fame quarterback Jim McMahon, filed a class action complaint against the National Football League in U.S. District Court.
The players claim that they were regularly administered addictive pain medication, in illegal doses, without proper medical supervision so they would continue to play while injured.
The controversy surrounding addiction to opiate based prescription medications has been in the news a lot this year.
In January, the Governor of Vermont, Peter Shumlin, received nationwide attention for dedicating his entire state of the state speech to an epidemic of heroin and opiate drug addiction in his state and across the country.
Dependence and abuse of opioid painkillers is more common than with any other type of prescription.
In 2007 alone, prescription painkillers caused twice as many deaths as cocaine and heroin, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
What Happens When Players Retire?
An NFL wide receiver for nine years, J.D. Hill, a plaintiff in the suit against the league, shares a similar story to many others who grow dependent on opiate based pain medications. Once access to prescription medication dries up, users often turn to heroin or other illegal drugs.
After retiring from the league, Hill found himself buying drugs on the street to feed his addiction and cope with his physical pain. Eventually, he ended up homeless.
The ex-players describe a routine in which they were given non-steroidal anti-inflammatory meds, opioids and anesthetics to ready them for physical action on the gridiron. There are allegations that trainers often provided them with drugs to sleep, and in the morning delivered different medications to prep them for the game.
Many players involved in the lawsuit have continued to struggle with addiction and health issues related to these medications long after their professional careers ended.
Roy Green, a wide receiver and thirteen-year veteran of the NFL, is 56 years old. He has suffered three heart attacks and received a kidney transplant in 2012, related to the “hundreds, if not thousands” of injections he received during his professional career.
Green is just one example of a once healthy young person who now suffers serious medical problems due to being over medicated.
Why Did the Players Use Drugs?
A Washington Post survey of more than 500 former players found that one out of four felt uncomfortable about taking medication, but felt pressure to do so. Additionally, 68 percent of these players said they didn’t feel that they had a choice not to play while injured.
NFL executives claim that this is an important issue that their doctors are examining, but the controversy is a microcosm of what’s happening across the country.
Stricter laws have been enacted to keep doctors from over-prescribing addictive pain medication. While this has dried up the illegal sale of painkillers, it’s also made it more difficult for those with serious and legitimate chronic pain to receive the care that they need.
Consequently, many areas of the country are seeing a rise in heroin abuse and overdoses.
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