DEA’s Surprise NFL Inspections for Painkiller Misuse

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On Sunday, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration conducted surprise inspections of various NFL teams, including the San Francisco 49ers, the Seattle Seahawk, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  The inspections were sparked by allegations asserted in a class-action lawsuit filed in May 2014 by several of the high-profile named players like Richard Dent, Keith Van Horne, and Jim McMahon.

The lawsuit alleged that team doctors and trainers routinely distributed addictive narcotics such as Percocet and Percodan and sleeping pills such as Ambien to players in an inappropriate manner to keep them in the game.

The agents interviewed the 49ers at MetLife Stadium, the Seattle Seahawks after their game in Kansas City, and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Baltimore-Washington International airport.  In some occasions, the inspections were conducted while games were in progress or yet to start.

Looking for any violations under the Controlled Substances Act, DEA personnel were asking for documentations for prescriptions and records regarding the distribution of painkillers by team physicians and trainers.  The agents were also investigating to see if those medical teams are properly authorized to prescribe and dispense controlled substances.   One law enforcement agent told the Washington Post that, “the investigation focuses on practices across the 32-team league, including possible distribution of drugs without prescriptions or labels and the dispensing of drugs by trainers rather than physicians.”

DEA spokesman Rusty Payne said, “DEA agents are currently interviewing NFL team doctors in several locations as part of an ongoing investigation into potential violations of the CSA.”

The NFL Physicians Society released a statement saying, “The NFL team doctors strive to comply with all regulations in prescribing and dispensing drugs to our patients, the players.”  NFL spokesman Brain McCarthy said, “Our teams cooperated with the DEA today and we have no information to indicate that irregularities were found.”

To date over 500 former players have joined the painkiller class action, making it the second giant class action against the NFL in recent years.  The complaint is seeking unspecified financial damages, and an injunction creating a NFL-funded testing and monitoring program to prevent players from becoming addicted to painkillers.

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