WASHINGTON — In an unprecedented step, agents from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration conducted surprise inspections Sunday, targeting the medical and training staffs of visiting NFL teams, in an effort to determine whether they violated federal drug laws governing the handling and distribution of prescription painkillers, “Outside the Lines” has learned.
A federal law enforcement official, with knowledge of the investigation, told “Outside the Lines” the inspections were motivated by allegations raised in a May 2014 federal lawsuit, filed on behalf of several prominent NFL players, who allege team physicians and trainers routinely gave them painkillers in an illegal manner to mask injuries and keep them on the field.
Painkiller MIsuse By Retired NFL Players
In January 2011, ESPN reported on the first-ever study of painkiller misuse by retired NFL players. That study, funded in part by ESPN and with a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.
Among the key findings:
• Retired NFL players misuse opioid pain medications at a rate more than four times that of the general population.
• 52 percent of the retired players said they used prescription pain medication during their playing days.
• Of those who took the drugs while playing, 71 percent said they misused the drugs then, and 15 percent of the misusers acknowledged misusing the medications within the past 30 days.
— John Barr
“DEA agents are currently interviewing NFL team doctors in several locations as part of an ongoing investigation into potential violations of the Controlled Substances Act,” DEA spokesperson Rusty Payne said Sunday.
“The Drug Enforcement Administration has a responsibility under the Controlled Substances Act to ensure that registrants who possess, prescribe and dispense controlled substances are following the law,” Payne added.
Spokesmen for the San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks all acknowledged that DEA agents showed up to inspect their medical staffs after their teams’ respective road games Sunday.
“What we were told was they are random checks of team physicians as they travel to see if anyone is transporting controlled substances across state lines,” 49ers spokesman Bob Lange said after Sunday’s game against the Giants. “The 49ers medical staff complied and the team departed the stadium as scheduled.”