Former NFL players file class action claiming drug misuse

By Kyla Asbury | Jun 27, 2014

OAKLAND, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - Eight former NFL football players are suing the National Football League after they claim it illegally supplied painkillers to players to keep them in the game without telling them the severity of their injuries or the side effects of the medications.

Richard Dent, Jeremy Newbery, Roy Green, J.D. Hill, Keith Van Horne, Ron Stone, Ron Pritchard and Jim McMahon claim that rather than allowing players to rest and heal, the NFL illegally and unethically substituted pain medications for proper healthcare to keep the NFL's "tsunami of dollars flowing," according to a complaint filed May 20 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The plaintiffs, who played on different teams at different times between 1969 and 2008, claim the NFL cares more about its profits than its athletes' health.

In the thirst for constantly growing revenue, the NFL has increasingly scheduled more Thursday night games over the past few years, which leaves players with less recovery time and greater chances for new injuries or worsening of existing injuries, according to the suit.

"More games, longer seasons, shorter recovery between games, plus bigger and stronger players, equals more frequent and debilitating injuries," the complaint states. "That is problematic for the League, which needs players on the field on every given Sunday so the money can keep rolling in. Indeed, named Plaintiff Jeremy Newberry spent an entire season with the 49ers in which he played every Sunday but never practiced because his injuries were too severe."

The plaintiffs claim in a recent Washington Post survey, nearly nine out of 10 former players reported playing while hurt; 56 percent said they did this "frequently;" and an overwhelming number - 68 percent - said they did not feel like they had a choice as to whether to play hurt.

To keep injured players in the game, the NFL supplied them with non-prescription opioids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and local anesthetics such as Lidocaine, according to the suit.

"The...medications were often administered without a prescription and with little regard for a player's medical history or potentially-fatal interactions with other medications," the complaint states. "Administering medications in this cavalier manner constitutes a fundamental misuse of carefully-controlled prescription medications and a clear danger to the players."

The plaintiffs claim the NFL directly and indirectly supplied players with local anesthetic medications to mask pain and other symptoms stemming from musculoskeletal injury when the NFL knew that doing so constituted a dangerous misuse of such medications.

The NFL sanctioned and/or encouraged the misuse of narcotic pain medications in combination with NSAIDs, anesthetics and other substances such as alcohol, despite clear evidence of the potentially-fatal interactions of such combinations, according to the suit.

"NFL doctors travel with their teams and know that players are being provided with such medications along with alcohol that the NFL provides on plane trips back from games," the complaint states. "With its priority on profit, the NFL places a premium on return to play to the detriment of a player's health. The time has come for that to stop."

The plaintiffs claim they were given Percodan, Vicodin, Percocet, Prednisone, Toradol, Ambien and Celebrex.

Each of the plaintiffs suffered severe injuries while they were playing on their NFL teams.

Van Horne, an offensive tackle for the Chicago Bears from 1981 to 1993, played an entire season on a broken leg, the first month of which he required a special medical boot to reduce the swelling before he could suit up, according to the suit.

Van Horne "was not told about the broken leg for five years, during which time he was fed a constant diet of pills to deal with the pain," the complaint states.

Dent, who played for the Chicago Bears, the San Francisco 49ers, the Indianapolis Colts and the Philadelphia Eagles, broke a bone in his foot in 1990, but followed the advice of his doctors and trainers and continued playing with the help of painkillers for the next eight weeks.

Dent claims he now has permanent nerve damage in that foot and an enlarged heart and nerve damage.

Newberry, who played for the San Francisco 49ers, the Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Charges, claims he received hundreds, if not thousands, of injections from doctors and pills from trainers, including but not limited to NSAIDs, Vicodin, Toradol, Ambien, Indocin, Celebrax and Prednisone.

"No one from the NFL ever talked to him about the side effects of the medications he was being provided or cocktailing," the complaint states. "He currently has Stage 3 renal failure and suffers from high blood pressure and violent headaches for which he cannot take any medications that might further deteriorate his already-weakened kidneys. "

Green, who played for the St. Louis/Phoenix Cardinals from 1979 to 1990 and the Philadelphia Eagles from 1991 to 1992, also received hundreds, if not thousands, of injections from doctors and pills from trainers, he says. Green claims he was also given trauma IVs.

Since retiring, Green has suffered three heart attacks and also suffers from high blood pressure. In November 2012, he had a kidney transplant due to failing kidneys.

Hill, who played for the Buffalo Bills from 1971 to 1975 and the Detroit Lions from 1975 to 1978, claims no one from the NFL ever talked to him about the side effects of the medications he was being given or cocktailing and he left the NFL addicted to painkillers.

Hill claims this addiction "forced to purchase on the streets to deal with his football-related pain, a path that led him to other street medications. He eventually became homeless and was in and out of 15 drug treatment centers for a period of over 20 years until overcoming his NFL-sponsored drug addiction."

After leaving the NFL, Hill had to take Prednisone to deal with the pain from his injuries, which weakened his immune system, he says. He then developed an abscess in his lung, requiring major surgery resulting in the loss of part of a lung. In addition, he has atrial fibrillation that requires doctor-supervised medication.

Stone, who played for the Dallas Cowboys from 1993 to 1995; the New York Giants from 1996 to 2001; the San Francisco 49ers from 2002 to 2003; and the Oakland Raiders from 2004 to 2005, claims since retiring from the NFL, he has consistently suffered from severe pain in his elbow and knee stemming from injuries received while playing that were masked with medications rather than treated early with surgery or rest.

Pritchard, who played for the Houston Oilers from 1969 to 1972 and for the Cincinnati Bengals from 1972 to 1977, claims since retiring he has six knee surgeries and replacements for both knees as well as shoulder, elbow, hand and foot surgery.

McMahon, who played for the Chicago Bears from 1982 to 1988; the San Diego Chargers in 1989; the Philadelphia Eagles from 1990 to 1992; the Minnesota Vikings in 1993; the Arizona Cardinals in 1994; and the Green Bay Packers from 1995 to 1996, claims over the course of his career and 18 surgeries, he has became dependent on painkillers, "a slow process that overtook him without him realizing it."

"At one point, he was taking as many as 100 Percocets per month, even in the off-seasons," the complaint states. "After his playing career concluded, he was no longer able to obtain painkillers for free from the NFL and was forced to purchase over-the-counter painkillers to satisfy his need for medications."

McMahon claims over the course of that time, he has spent an extensive amount of money on such medications.

"In addition, Mr. McMahon suffers from arthritic pain in his hands and limited motion, as well as extreme pain, in his right shoulder," the complaint states. "The foregoing pain and limitations stem from injuries Mr. McMahon suffered while playing in the NFL that were never allowed to properly heal and were aggravated by continued play."

The plaintiffs are seeking class certification, medical monitoring and punitive damages for fraud, fraudulent concealment, negligence, negligent misrepresentation, negligent hiring and retention, and loss of consortium. They are being represented by William Sinclair, Steven D. Silverman, Andrew G. Slutkin, Stephen G. Grygiel and Joseph F. Murphy Jr. of Silverman Thompson Slutkin White; and Thomas J. Byrne and Mel T. Owens of Namanny Byrne & Owens.

The case has been assigned to District Judge Kandis A. Westmore.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California case number: 4:14-cv-02324

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