Newly Obtained Court Filings Detail Abuse of Painkillers in NFL

The Washington Post was recently able to obtain sealed court filings from a lawsuit filed by former NFL players against the 32 teams of the NFL. Those court filings detailed how the NFL teams and trainers have regularly abused painkillers violating both ethical and legal standards.

The filings contain testimony and documentation from former and current team doctors and trainers detailing instances where they were aware of abuses, record keeping issues and even violations of federal law and little or no response was given. This indicates a flagrant violation by NFL teams to accord with best practices and federal controlled substance laws.

There was also evidence that team doctors went out of their way to obfuscate investigations by League and DEA officials into the distribution of painkillers by NFL teams. A 2009 email from Cincinnati Bengal’s head trainer reads: “Can you have your office fax a copy of your DEA certificate to me? I need it for my records when the NFL ‘pill counters’ come to see if we are doing things right. Don’t worry, I’m pretty good at keeping them off the trail!” The lawsuit also alleges that a DEA agent tipped off the NFL to a raid the DEA performed on traveling NFL teams to see if they were following policies related to transporting controlled substances across state lines. Emails and testimony such as this indicate a systematic approach to avoiding DEA regulation in regards to painkillers.

The drugs most commonly referenced in the lawsuit were Vicodin and Toradol, an anti-inflammatory medication often used to manage short-term post-operative pain. The court filings describe team doctors giving players Toradol before games to help them deal with previous injuries or just avoid the pain and inflammation that comes from a normal NFL game.

The scale at which Vicodin and Toradol were used is staggering in some cases. A 2014 survey of 27 NFL teams indicated that, on average, 26.7 players were administered at least one dosage of Toradol on game day. That’s more than half an active NFL roster. In addition, emails from a New York Jets assistant trainer show that they prescribed 1,031 doses of Toradol and 1,295 doses of Vicodin just in 2008 alone. Those numbers increased to 1,178 doses and 1,564 doses respectively in 2009.

The manner in which these drugs were given to players was not only problematic due to the dosage levels, often times the drugs were provided by personnel not authorized to do so and in locations where it was illegal. For example, federal law prohibits nonlicensed team personnel, such as athletic trainers, from giving out medication to players. Yet, the court filings detail a regular practice of trainers providing Toradol and Vicodin to players. It is also illegal for a physician to prescribe prescription drugs outside of his geographic area of practice and there are heavily controlled regulations for transporting them across state lines. However, until 2015 the NFL turned a blind eye to these violations by NFL teams. They could no longer do so following the surprise searched by DEA agents of NFL team training staffs in 2014 (the searched that the NFL were allegedly tipped off to beforehand).

What’s even more problematic than these violations are the unknown long term effects of this prescription drug abuse on the health of former players. In a 2011 survey of 644 retired NFL players, more than half reported having used opioids at some point in their career, and 7 in 10 admitted to misusing the drugs. 7% said that they still used opioids currently, more than four times the rate of the general population.

The NFL is no stranger to allegations that it has sacrificed player health. They recently settled a lawsuit where they were alleged to be negligent towards the effects of concussions on NFL players. This lawsuit is different though in that it is not suing the NFL, but the 32 teams themselves. This could open a new liability for the NFL and bring further questions to a game that been morally complicated as of recent.

Why Doesn’t Anyone Ask if OJ Simpson Has CTE?

Zach Needell
Law Clerk, Weisberg & Associates, P.A.
Juris Doctor Candidate, Emory University School of Law; 2018

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) is a degenerative disease of the brain developed as a result of repeated head trauma that can only be diagnosed after death. Its symptoms usually start to appear about 8-10 years after trauma and include, but are not limited to, memory loss, dementia, suicidal tendencies, and anti-social or erratic behavior. As a fan of American sports, it’s impossible to ignore. It’s everywhere. From ESPN to major motion pictures, CTE, its effects, and who’s to blame for its coverup have been at the forefront of the national conversation regarding contact sports, especially football, for the last several years and since its discovery an array of players have been diagnosed with the disease. So, as the entertainment industry turns its eyes back to the O.J. Simpson murder trial, might it be irresponsible not to ask and consider the possibility that he has CTE?

Although briefly incarcerated as a youth, O.J. Simpson stayed out of trouble throughout most of his early life. After retiring from football in 1979, Simpson focused on his career as an entertainer and sports broadcaster, keeping his popularity at highs not experienced by even the most successful professional football players. Then, in 1989, ten years after his retirement from professional football, Simpson pleaded no contest to an allegation of spousal abuse against his wife, Nicole Brown Simpson.

In June 1994 Simpson was accused of brutally murdering his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. The infamous car chase that ensued days later provided more insight into Simpson’s mentally unstable, suicidal state.

In 2001 he was charged with simple battery and burglary and in 2007 Simpson was convicted of stealing sports memorabilia at gunpoint from the Palace Station hotel and was sentenced to thirty-three years in prison.

Pieced together: we have a man who seemed on the whole to be a successful, well adjusted, and thoughtful person that, ten years following his retirement from professional football, began exhibiting signs of erratic, uncontrollable, antisocial, violent, and self-destructive behavior. These symptoms continued unabated throughout the rest of his life and ultimately led to him committing an armed robbery and ending up in prison.

Although the evidence of a correlation between CTE symptoms and the timing and behavior of O.J. Simpson are apparent, we can’t know for certain whether Simpson has CTE. Ultimately, the point might be moot because we will never know unless Simpson allows his brain to be examined post-mortem, but Dr. Bennett Omalu, the world-famous neuropathologist whose story is the subject of the film Concussion, stated that he would “bet [his] medical license,” that Simpson suffers from CTE. This raises a few interesting, and potentially important, questions:

Might O.J. Simpson have CTE?

To what degree might O.J. Simpson’s decision-making as it relates to his violent legal trouble be a result of the disease?

Why don’t we find many sports journalists, or journalists of any kind for that matter, asking this question and could there perhaps be a racial bias or a perceptual bias about football players that is in part responsible for this silence?

What, if anything, would such a revelation mean for Simpson’s legacy and the way we as a society view him today?

From both a legal and social perspective, how culpable is the NFL, who is the cause of the both the injury and the coverup, for the violent and life ending actions of players diagnosed with CTE or other major brain injuries?

And maybe most importantly: How would a potential diagnosis of Simpson with CTE affect other NFL Football Players?

This question goes beyond the Simpson case and extends to other instances such as the murder-suicide carried out by Jovan Belcher in 2012 and a string of suicides by other NFL Football Players including Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau. However, given the manner in which Simpson’s story seems to be able to capture the American psyche like few other stories before it, such a revelation could have a variety of potential implications for current and former NFL players.

Why We Represent Players

Zach Needell
Law Clerk, Weisberg & Associates, P.A.
Juris Doctor, Emory University School of Law; 2018

Working for Weisberg & Associates, P.A. in Boca Raton, FL, a law firm working on behalf of individual retired NFL players in the NFL Concussion Class Action Settlement, you see firsthand what repeated concussions and other head injuries can do to athletes; it’s scary. These men, some younger than thirty years old, have endured significant brain trauma and are already experiencing the effects of those injuries: memory loss, irritability, balance issues, light and sound sensitivity, migraines, anti-social or violent behavior, depression, and even suicidal thoughts.

Some say that people know that football isn’t safe and those who choose to play it are assuming the risk by putting on the helmet. Ignoring the holes in the logic of that argument, the point is still moot. The current fight over responsibility to these players is not about whether we recognize that football is a dangerous sport: it is. Rather, this is a case where the true effects of head injuries in football were unknown not because medical research had yet to discover it, but because a league who makes its living on men playing with reckless disregard for their health, safety, and well-being did not want to alert those players to the long-term effects of their injuries.

Within this Settlement, the NFL will pay Retired NFL Players, including those under the age of 45, if they receive a Qualifying Diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, severe dementia, and moderate dementia. These are illnesses that many of us in society know about all too well, but usually we know of them only in reference to an older friend or family member. These diseases that ruin and end lives almost never naturally occur in younger people, yet it is an epidemic among football players.

These are men who have been lied to. Who can be trusted to tell them the truth about the dangers of the sport they’re playing? Their coaches from Pop Warner, high school, college, or the pros? Their friends whose lifestyles are on their payroll? The league making millions off their physical play, endorsements, and jersey sales? Of course not. Everyone surrounding these men stands to gain too much to tell the truth about just how much they are really risking. Someone needs to help them get the truth about the effects of their time playing football and get compensated for the damage that has been done. That’s what we’re here for, and we couldn’t be more proud to work toward that aim.

Broadcasters and sports journalists often evoke images of warriors and gladiators when talking about football players, and they’re not wrong. The problem is we made it very clear to ancient warriors and gladiators that they were risking their lives. It’s only right that we demand the same level of honesty and justice on behalf of our modern-day gladiators. While today the NFL is making more efforts to protect players and limit traumatic and repeated head injuries, those who were damaged at the hands by the sport’s complacency and blasé attitude toward head injuries continue to suffer and deserve to be compensated. We are proud to represent these players and we look forward to helping them get everything they deserve.

The Cost of a Concussion

Concussion Infographic

The NFL’s concussion settlement has brought a lot of attention to the issue of concussions in the NFL. More than ever players past and present are thinking about the risks associated with head injuries and how they may be affected.

It’s now known that repeated concussions can lead to diseases related to traumatic brain injury. Early dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, and CTE are all degenerative brain diseases that can result from multiple concussions over the course of an NFL career.

From a medical and personal standpoint these diseases are costly because they can result in memory loss, confusion, loss of impulse control, muscular weakness and even death. We wanted to examine what the associated financial cost for some of these diseases would be though. What we found may surprise you…

Dementia and Alzheimer’s

First, we looked at dementia and Alzheimer’s and the costs associated with treatment. Based on the NFL settlement, payouts are available to retired players who meet the qualifications and show signs of early or moderate dementia or Alzheimer’s.  Depending on the diagnosis, those payments can reach $3.5 Million. So, how much of that would go to treatment and care?

Well, based on our research we found that Alzheimer’s can cost $40,000-$50,000 a year to treat, especially if the patient lives in an assisted living facility. This means that treatment for a 40 year old who is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s due to repeated head trauma while in the NFL will cost about $1.75 Million for the rest of his life. That’s a massive sum!

This figure also doesn’t account for all of the unpaid hours friends and family spend trying to help their loved one with this terrible disease. When you start to add in those hours the number is well north of $2 Million. Costs like this can bankrupt families.

Depression

Depression was another condition that we wanted to look at. The reality that repeated head trauma can cause depression and erratic behavior really came to the forefront with the tragic suicide of Junior Seau. Depression is dangerous because many people who have it feel stigmatized and fail to get care. But, even when they do seek care people who suffer from depression often find the costs staggering.

Anti-depressants can cost $200 a month. Then there’s therapy which can cost $240 for an hour session. Start to add up those costs as well as the costs of lost wages due to a lack of productivity and you can see costs of about $20,000 a year. A 40 year old retired NFL player who struggles with depression for the rest of their life due to repeated head trauma can spend more than $890,000 on care.

ALS

Thanks to the efforts of the ALS association and their Ice Bucket Challenge awareness and money for ALS research are at all time highs. Sadly, what we’ve discovered is that repeated head trauma as suffered by many former NFL players can cause this degenerative disease.

There is no cure for ALS and treatment is very expensive. Medical costs alone can run over $30,000. That includes costs for medicine, medical equipment and doctor visits. Add in the indirect costs of need for care, lost wages and more and ALS can costs families over $60,000 a year. A person diagnosed with ALS at 40 can spend over $2.2 Million over the course of their life on treatment.

Now What?

The astronomical costs of treating these diseases combined with skyrocketing health care costs makes the diagnoses a frightening proposition for many families. What’s even more frightening though is the thought that you could have one of these diseases and not even know it.

That’s why we at Weisberg & Associates are encouraging all retired NFL players who qualify for the NFL’s concussion settlement to get tested. Call us and we’ll help you get an appointment setup with a board certified neurologist at no cost to you. They will be able to examine you for signs of neurocognitive impairment and if you show symptoms, you may be eligible for a payout from the NFL.

Make sure that you get the money you deserve for the care that you need. Contact us today.

Why Every Retired NFL Player Should Get Examined

Retired NFL players are probably well aware of the NFL concussion settlement. What many former players may now be deliberating is whether or not to get tested for brain damage arising from concussions in the NFL. Some retired players may not show any symptoms or may not understand the process for getting tested.

Despite those concerns, we recommend that if you played in the NFL for any amount of time you should get a neurological examination. Even if you don’t show symptoms of early dementia, getting examined now is one of the most important things you can do.

Why?

Well, there are a couple  of reasons. One, even if you don’t think you display symptoms of early dementia you may have damage and disorders arising from your time in the NFL and not even know it. The signs of early dementia are often ambiguous and hard to pin down for someone that isn’t a medical professional. That’s why the tests are so important.

The tests are designed for professionals to be able to spot problems that you can’t, so it’s valuable to be tested in case there’s a hidden issue you aren’t aware of. One of the worst things that could happen would be to have neurocognitive impairment, not even know it and not get treatment. This could allow the impairment to worsen and could cause a whole host of problems down the road.

Second, even if you get tested and don’t receive a qualifying diagnosis the test can serve as a baseline for future testing. Remember, the settlement stays open for 65 years and a qualifying diagnosis can be brought forth at any time during that 65 year period. So even if you don’t receive a qualifying diagnosis at this point in time it doesn’t exclude you from the settlement in the future. With no risk of giving up your rights in the settlement, getting tested gives you and your family peace of mind and provides an important baseline metric for future testing.

In the tragic event that you did develop neurocognitive impairment later in life getting testing now would be important for earning a settlement later. That’s because awards are reduced for players who don’t get tested early or can’t prove their past neurocognitive abilities. In essence, getting tested now is a free insurance policy against problems that could arise later in life.

Obviously, the neurological testing required for the NFL settlement can be an intimidating and worrying prospect. But it is so important for you and your family that you get tested now. Putting it off can cause you to miss a serious neurocognitive deficiency and the treatment that you need to live a full life.

If you’re looking for a doctor who can test you for neurocognitive deficiencies Weisberg & Associates can help. We work with a team of board certified neurologists and neuro-physicians who can test you. Contact us today if you want to get tested. There’s no cost and no risk for you. Don’t miss an opportunity that could possibly save your life. Call us to get tested today.