Does the NFL Push Painkillers on Football Players?

Unveiling the NFL's role in painkiller use among players. Explore regulations, player experiences, and the push for change.

By
Leora BH Staff
May 21, 2024

NFL and Prescription Painkillers

The misuse of prescription painkillers among NFL players, both current and retired, has been a significant concern within the league. This section will explore the extent of painkiller misuse among retired players and the sources from which they obtain these medications.

Misuse Among Retired Players

Retired NFL players have been shown to misuse opioid pain medications at a rate more than four times that of the general population, potentially due to their use of these drugs during their playing days. According to a survey, 52 percent of retired players admitted to using prescription pain medication during their playing days. Among these users, a staggering 71 percent acknowledged misusing the drugs at that time.

Furthermore, the study revealed that those who misused prescription painkillers while playing were three times more likely to misuse the drugs in their post-playing years than those who used the medication as prescribed [1]. This highlights the potential long-term consequences and challenges associated with painkiller misuse among retired NFL players.

Sources of Pain Medication

The sources from which retired NFL players obtain prescription pain medication are diverse. A significant portion, approximately 63 percent, reported acquiring these medications from nonmedical sources. These sources include teammates, coaches, trainers, family members, dealers, or even the Internet [1]. This statistic raises concerns about the accessibility and proper distribution of pain medication within the NFL.

It is worth noting that a small percentage, approximately 7 percent, of retired players surveyed admitted to either using more prescription pain medication than prescribed by their doctors, using the medication without a prescription, or both. In comparison, the rate of misuse within the general population age 26 and older is significantly lower, at 1.6 percent.

The misuse of prescription painkillers among retired NFL players highlights the need for increased awareness, education, and proper medical oversight within the league. The NFL has a responsibility to address this issue and implement measures to ensure the health and well-being of its players.

Factors Influencing Misuse

When examining the issue of painkiller misuse among NFL players, several factors come into play. Two significant factors influencing misuse are the trends observed over time and the nonmedical access to painkillers.

Misuse Trends Over Time

Retired NFL players have been found to misuse opioid pain medications at a rate more than four times that of the general population, possibly due to their use of these medications during their playing days [1]. According to a survey conducted by ESPN, 52 percent of retired players reported using prescription pain medication during their playing days. Of those, a staggering 71 percent admitted to misusing the drugs at that time, and 15 percent acknowledged recent misuse within the past 30 days.

Furthermore, the survey revealed that those who misused prescription painkillers during their playing days were three times more likely to misuse the drugs presently compared to those who used them as prescribed during their playing careers. These trends highlight the potential long-term consequences and challenges associated with painkiller misuse among NFL players.

Nonmedical Access to Painkillers

Nonmedical access to painkillers is another significant factor contributing to the misuse problem. According to the same survey, an alarming 63 percent of retired players who used prescription pain pills during their playing careers obtained the medications from nonmedical sources. These sources included teammates, coaches, trainers, family members, dealers, or even the Internet.

This easy access to prescription pain medication from nonmedical sources can facilitate misuse and contribute to the prevalence of addiction among NFL players. The survey revealed that 7 percent of the retired players surveyed admitted to either using more prescription pain medication than prescribed by their doctors, using the medication without a prescription, or both. This rate of misuse within the retired player population is significantly higher than the general population, where the rate of misuse among individuals aged 26 and older is only 1.6 percent [1].

Addressing the factors influencing painkiller misuse among NFL players is crucial for promoting player health and well-being. By understanding the trends over time and implementing measures to prevent nonmedical access to painkillers, the league can work towards a safer and healthier environment for its players.

Legal and Ethical Concerns

Within the context of painkiller use among football players, there are significant legal and ethical concerns surrounding the practices of NFL teams. Allegations and lawsuits have shed light on the potential negligence in painkiller distribution and the alleged disregard for player safety.

Allegations Against NFL Teams

In 2015, more than 1,800 former NFL players filed an amended complaint alleging that NFL teams had a culture that disregarded player safety and federal guidance on handling narcotics and painkillers. The complaint claimed that team doctors and trainers negligently supplied narcotics and anti-inflammatory painkillers to keep players on the field [2].

Instances were documented where players reportedly received painkillers without their knowledge or warnings about potential side effects. One player even testified that he would receive unlabeled envelopes filled with medications given to him by the team's trainers. These allegations raise concerns about the ethical responsibility of NFL teams to prioritize player health and safety.

Negligence in Painkiller Distribution

Plaintiffs' attorneys in the aforementioned lawsuit revealed in depositions that several NFL team doctors admitted to violating federal laws or regulations while serving as team doctors. Additionally, one team physician testified that, as of 2010, a majority of NFL clubs had trainers illegally handling prescription medications and controlled substances.

The Ninth Circuit revived a class-action lawsuit that claimed the NFL negligently allowed teams to push painkillers on injured athletes, resulting in permanent injuries and drug addictions for players. Lead plaintiff Richard Dent, a former Chicago Bear and NFL Hall of Famer, alleged that the NFL instructed team doctors from at least 1969 to 2012 to distribute unprescribed drugs without warning players of harmful side effects, leading to his career-ending injuries and addiction to painkillers.

These allegations and lawsuits highlight the potential negligence in the distribution of painkillers within the NFL. The ethical implications of these practices raise concerns about player welfare and the duty of NFL teams to prioritize the long-term health and well-being of their athletes.

It is essential for the NFL to address these legal and ethical concerns, ensure proper medical oversight, and take necessary measures to protect the health and safety of its players. By implementing stricter regulations and monitoring procedures, the league can work towards creating a safer environment for football players and mitigating the risks associated with painkiller misuse.

Alternative Pain Management

In the context of pain management among NFL players, there has been growing interest in exploring alternative solutions to traditional painkillers. One potential solution that has gained attention is cannabidiol (CBD), a compound derived from hemp plants.

CBD as a Potential Solution

Former and current NFL players have sought relief from their soreness and pain through the use of potentially addictive pain medications such as codeine and oxycodone. However, some players have turned to CBD as an alternative option. CBD is an extract from hemp plants that contains minute levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive compound found in marijuana [4].

CBD has gained attention for its potential to reduce inflammation and chronic pain without the psychoactive effects associated with marijuana. Unlike marijuana, CBD has a THC level of less than 0.3 percent, making it non-addictive and non-intoxicating. It offers a promising alternative for managing pain and soreness without the potential risks associated with traditional pain medications.

Benefits and Challenges of CBD Use

CBD proponents believe that it could provide several benefits for NFL players in terms of pain management and player safety. Advocates argue that CBD could help players avoid dependence on traditional painkillers and potentially reduce the risk of long-term health issues associated with opioid use. It may offer a safer and less addictive alternative for managing pain, allowing players to continue playing through injuries.

Research on the effects of CBD on chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease linked to concussions, has also gained attention. CBD is believed to have neuroprotective properties and could potentially alleviate some symptoms of CTE. However, due to restrictions on marijuana research imposed by the federal government's classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, there is limited scientific research on CBD's effectiveness for these purposes.

Although CBD shows promise as an alternative pain management option, it is important to note that its use is currently prohibited in the NFL due to its association with marijuana, which is included on the league's list of banned substances. The legal and regulatory landscape surrounding CBD is complex, and more research is needed to fully understand its potential benefits and limitations in the context of professional football.

As the conversation around pain management in the NFL continues to evolve, it is crucial to explore alternative approaches that prioritize player health and safety. Collaborative efforts between the NFL, medical professionals, and researchers may help shed light on the potential benefits and challenges of CBD use and pave the way for safer practices in managing pain among football players.

Medical Oversight and Responsibility

When it comes to the use of painkillers among football players, the NFL has taken steps to address the issue and provide medical oversight and responsibility. This section will explore the NFL's Pain Management Committee and collaborative efforts aimed at promoting player health.

NFL's Pain Management Committee

The NFL has established the Joint Pain Management Committee to establish uniform standards for club practices and policies regarding pain management and the use of prescription medications by NFL players. This committee consists of medical professionals, including team physicians and pain management experts, who work together to ensure that players receive appropriate medical care and that policies are informed by medical expertise.

The Pain Management Committee plays a crucial role in promoting responsible pain management practices within the NFL. They provide guidance on the appropriate use of pain medication, monitor the implementation of pain management policies across teams, and work to address any concerns or issues that may arise.

Collaborative Efforts for Player Health

The NFL collaborates with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) to prioritize player health and safety. Together, they work to ensure that players receive comprehensive medical care and that policies are developed and informed by medical experts. The focus is on advancing progress in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of sports-related injuries to protect the health, safety, and well-being of players.

In addition to the Pain Management Committee, the NFL allocates significant resources towards medical research. In 2016, the league allocated $40 million for medical research, primarily dedicated to neuroscience. A Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) was also assembled to identify and support research on the diagnosis, treatment, and natural history of concussions and associated conditions [6].

Furthermore, the NFL has implemented various initiatives and strategies to reduce injuries and promote player safety. This includes mandating the use of protective equipment, such as thigh and knee pads, during games to minimize leg injuries. The league also emphasizes proper maintenance and testing of playing fields to reduce injury risks. Additionally, the NFL has implemented an Injury Reduction Plan that focuses on behavioral changes and utilizes data collection and analysis to inform advancements in player equipment, training, and gameplay for a safer environment, with a particular emphasis on reducing concussions.

Through these collaborative efforts and a commitment to player health and safety, the NFL aims to ensure that medical oversight and responsibility are prioritized in the management of pain and overall well-being of football players.

Impact on Player Health

The misuse of prescription painkillers among NFL players has significant implications for their health and well-being. It is essential to understand the potential health risks and long-term consequences associated with opioid misuse in this context.

Opioid Misuse and Health Risks

Retired NFL players misuse opioid pain medications at a rate more than four times that of the general population, possibly due to their use during their playing days. A study found that 52 percent of retired players reported using prescription pain medication during their playing days, with 71 percent of those individuals acknowledging misuse of these drugs at the time. Those who misused prescription painkillers while playing were three times more likely to misuse them in the present compared to those who used the medication as prescribed during their playing days [1].

The misuse of prescription painkillers can lead to various health risks, both short-term and long-term. Short-term risks include drowsiness, dizziness, constipation, nausea, and respiratory depression. Prolonged misuse can lead to more severe consequences, such as addiction, tolerance, and dependence. Opioid misuse may also increase the risk of accidental overdose, which can be life-threatening.

Long-Term Consequences

The long-term consequences of opioid misuse among NFL players can be profound. Chronic misuse of opioids can result in physical and psychological dependence, making it challenging to discontinue use without experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Continued opioid misuse can lead to a decline in overall physical and mental health, impairing an individual's ability to function optimally.

Furthermore, research has shown that former NFL players who were exposed to prescribed pain medication during their playing careers are more likely to currently use prescription opioids. Approximately one in every four retired players with prior exposure are currently using prescription opioids, with half of those individuals reporting misuse or abuse of the medication. Misuse of prescription opioids among retired players has been associated with concurrent risky drinking and increased odds of substance use disorders [7]. These findings highlight the potential for a cascade of negative health outcomes resulting from opioid misuse within this population.

Addressing the impact on player health necessitates proactive measures to prevent and treat opioid misuse among NFL players. It requires comprehensive strategies that focus on education, early intervention, and alternative pain management approaches. By prioritizing player health and well-being, the NFL can mitigate the long-term consequences of opioid misuse and promote a safer environment for its athletes.

League Regulations and Safety Measures

When it comes to player health and safety, the NFL takes several measures to prioritize the well-being of its athletes. The league collaborates with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) to ensure that players receive appropriate medical care and that policies are informed by medical experts. The focus is on advancing progress in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of sports-related injuries to protect players' health, safety, and well-being.

Player Safety Initiatives

The NFL has implemented various player safety initiatives to minimize the risk of injuries during games. One such initiative is the mandatory use of protective equipment. Players are required to wear equipment such as thigh and knee pads to reduce the likelihood of leg injuries. Additionally, proper maintenance and testing of playing fields are necessary to ensure a safe playing environment for the athletes.

Another significant player safety initiative is the league's commitment to medical research. In 2016, the NFL allocated $40 million for medical research, with a primary focus on neuroscience. This funding supports research on the diagnosis, treatment, and natural history of concussions and associated conditions. To further support this research, the NFL has established a Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) to identify and support studies that contribute to player health and safety.

Strategies for Injury Prevention

To reduce the occurrence of concussions, the NFL has implemented an Injury Reduction Plan. This plan emphasizes behavioral changes and places a strong emphasis on data collection and analysis. By studying the data, the league can identify trends and make informed decisions regarding advancements in player equipment, training techniques, and gameplay strategies to create a safer environment for the athletes.

Furthermore, the NFL has set strict standards for player helmets. Certain helmet models that do not meet safety standards are prohibited, and each year, helmets undergo laboratory testing to evaluate the impact severity. This ongoing evaluation aims to reduce head injuries and promote player safety. The league works collaboratively with the NFLPA to ensure that helmets provide the necessary protection for the players.

Through these league regulations and safety measures, the NFL demonstrates its commitment to player health and safety. By prioritizing injury prevention, implementing player safety initiatives, and investing in medical research, the league strives to create a safer playing environment for all athletes.

Public Perception and Awareness

The issue of prescription painkiller use in the NFL has garnered significant attention from the media and has shaped public opinion regarding the league's role in promoting and distributing these medications.

Media Coverage and Public Opinion

Media coverage surrounding the NFL's handling of painkillers has shed light on the alleged negligence and misconduct by the league and its teams. Lawsuits, such as the class-action lawsuit revived by the Ninth Circuit, have brought these issues to the forefront [3]. Lead plaintiff Richard Dent, a former NFL player, has accused the NFL of instructing team doctors to distribute unprescribed drugs without sufficient warning of potential side effects, resulting in permanent injuries and addiction.

The media's coverage has shaped public opinion, leading to increased scrutiny of the NFL's practices and raising awareness of the potential dangers associated with painkiller misuse in professional football. The public's perception of the NFL's handling of painkillers has been influenced by these revelations, with concerns expressed regarding player safety, health, and the league's responsibility to protect its athletes.

Advocacy for Safer Practices

As public awareness of the issues surrounding painkiller use in the NFL has grown, advocacy groups and individuals have called for safer practices and increased accountability within the league. These advocates urge the NFL to prioritize player health and well-being by implementing stricter protocols and providing better education on pain management alternatives.

Advocacy efforts aim to raise awareness of the potential risks associated with painkiller misuse and push for comprehensive changes in the NFL's approach to pain management. By advocating for safer practices, these individuals and organizations seek to protect current and future football players from the harmful effects of prescription painkiller misuse.

Through media coverage and advocacy initiatives, the public is becoming more aware of the NFL's alleged role in painkiller use among football players. This increased awareness has fueled discussions about the league's responsibility to prioritize player health, safety, and the need for improved practices and regulations to mitigate the risks associated with painkiller misuse.

References

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