Former Baltimore Ravens and Colts are among the 750 former NFL players suing the league as part of a class action suit alleging teams illegally dispensed painkillers and other narcotics without taking into account their long-term health, the players’ lead attorney confirms.
The lawsuit, originally filed May 20 in U.S. District Court in northern California, includes players that played from 1969 to 2008.
“This suit includes players from every team in the NFL during the years in question,” said Steve Silverman, an attorney for the Baltimore-based firm of Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin and White, who did not offer specific names. “Players were given painkillers and other powerful drugs with a complete lack of informed consent.”
Silverman said the lawsuit argues team doctors and trainers provided players with everything from painkillers such as Percocet to anti-inflammatory drugs such as Toradol to sleep aids like Ambien; often filling out prescriptions in players’ names without informing them ahead of time
This was done, Silverman said, to simply get players back on the field as quickly as possible. He added that players placed their trust in the hands of doctors and trainers, not understanding the long-term impact of such drug use.
The Ravens referred all questions on this matter to the NFL. League spokesman Brian McCarthy said the NFL would have no comment.
Unaware of the consequences
Among the players involved in the suit are eight named plaintiffs: Richard Dent, Jeremy Newberry, Roy Green, Keith Van Horne, Ron Stone, Jim McMahon, JD Hill and Ron Pritchard. Silverman said collectively that group played in the NFL for 16 different teams over the 40 seasons and combined, they have 13 Pro Bowl Appearances, 10 All Pro seasons, 7 Super Bowl Championships and 1 Hall of Fame career.
Silverman said the players involved in the suit are suffering from everything from nerve and organ damage to bone and muscle damage tied to long-term prescription drug use.
In addition, many players became addicted to drugs because of the medication given to them during their playing days, Silverman said.
“When we tried to track down their medical records from their playing days, often times we found they didn’t exist,” Silverman said. “But, when the players sought out outside medical care the only cause for their medical problems pointed to prescription drugs.”
Among the lesser known plaintiffs is former Ravens tight end Frank Wainright.
Wainright, now 46, played in the NFL from 1991 to 2000, including with the Ravens from 1999 to 2000. Being a backup tight end/long snapper, Wainright said there was added pressure on him to play, which often led to him taking painkillers and injections from team doctors just to get on the field.
“Your roster spot was often on the line from week to week,” said Wainright, who also played for the New Orleans Saints, Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles. “We were told if you could get through the pain, the injury could not get worse by playing. That would lead to using narcotics and whatever else the team would offer to get on the field.”
Wainright said early in his career, it was not unusual for bowls of pills to be passed around on the team plane on the way back from games.
“Pills were readily available throughout the NFL,” Wainright said. “The NFL had a must-play mentality. You choose to play football and understand the physical risk, but you also believe that doctors and trainers would not do something to hurt you long term.”
Wainright said he dealt with a back injury during his time with the Ravens and needed injections four or five times during the 2000 season to deal with the pain and inflamation when the team went on to win the Super Bowl.
“Winning a Super Bowl saved my life, because it gave me a reason to step away from the game,” Wainright said. “I definitely got hooked on prescription drugs during my playing days. Now I’m paying the price. My back, knees, hip and spine are all damaged, injuries in which the overall pain was masked from drugs.”
Prichard, a former linebacker, played nine years of professional football spending time with the Houston Oilers and the Cincinnati Bengals from 1969 to 1977. He said pills were passed out like candy in the locker room during his years in the NFL.
“You would walk into the locker room and there were just bowls of amphetamines available like M&M’s,” said Prichard in a statement. “No directions, no warning, no doctor, no nothing. It is no wonder so many guys got hooked.”
Stone, 42, was an offensive lineman who played 13 seasons in the NFL from 1993-2005. He was a part of the Dallas Cowboys’ Super Bowl XXVIII and Super Bowl XXX winning teams and was selected to three Pro Bowls. He said he feels the Cowboys kept vital information from him regarding his health.
“Instead of telling me to rest and recover, the NFL just shot me up with pain killers in my joints,” said Stone in a statement. “When you are hurt, your body is trying to tell you something. I wish the NFL doctors
had told me something different. Now, I can barely move a muscle without some pain.”
McMahon shared a similar tale. The former quarterback spent 15 years in the NFL from 1982 to 1996. The highlight of his career came in 1985 when he led the Chicago Bears to a victory in Super Bowl XX.
McMahon said his years in the NFL did considerable damage to his body. He is also involved in a class-action suit against the NFL related to concussions . The league agreed to pay $765 million to settle that case, but a federal judge has yet to approve the settlement.
“I was constantly being given drugs which I now know masked the pain and made matters significantly worse,” said McMahon in a statement. “Worst of all, it was kept from me that I had no labrum in my shoulder the season after winning the Super Bowl. Rather than getting much needed surgery, I was given painkillers and pushed out there for 10 weeks. It was like sacrificing McMahon for a chance to repeat.”
Easy to get hooked
Stacey Sugar, a Baltimore-based licensed clinical professional counselor who specializes in addiction, said there is a high risk of addiction that comes along with prescription painkillers, even when the intention is purely medically-related.
“Opioids are effective in pain management, but can also provide extreme pleasure and euphoria,” she said. “People can develop tolerance to these medications, meaning they require more and more of the substance to feel the desired effect.
“When the drug wears off, or the person attempts to stop or decrease use of the substance, they may experience withdrawal symptoms including but not limited to intense nausea, body pain, mood swings etc. These symptoms are relieved when the person consumes the substance. It can be a vicious cycle of wanting to quit and tapering down and then increasing again to avoid the withdrawal. Tolerance and withdrawal are tell-tale signs that one has developed a dependency.”
View a copy of the lawsuit here .