The NFL has come under a sizable amount of scrutiny of late over its overreliance on prescription painkillers, with many calling for drastic changes in the way teams treat player injuries. Among the ideas being bandied about is the use of medicinal marijuana, which the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine says can be “an effective treatment for chronic pain in adults.”
There’s just one problem with that: Marijuana is banned in the NFL, with players facing fines and suspensions for multiple drug-test violations. And based on what Roger Goodell told ESPN’s “Mike & Mike” on Friday, that isn’t going to change anytime soon, at least if he has anything to say about it.
“I think you still have to look at a lot of aspects of marijuana use,” Goodell said. “Is it something that can be negative to the health of our players? Listen, you’re ingesting smoke, so that’s not usually a very positive thing that people would say. It does have an addictive nature. There are a lot of compounds in marijuana that may not be healthy for the players long-term. All of those things have to be considered. And it’s not as simple as someone just wants to feel better after a game. We really want to help our players in that circumstance but I want to make sure that the negative consequences aren’t something that is something that we’ll be held accountable for some years down the road.”
Goodell isn’t exactly wrong when he says marijuana can be addictive: Research has shown people can become dependent on it and suffer anxiety, insomnia, appetite disturbance and depression when they quit. But here’s the thing: That same research says that a far smaller percentage of marijuana users (9 percent) become addicted to it compared with other drugs, such as the ones NFL teams pump into their ailing players. For instance, court documents uncovered by The Post in a lawsuit filed by former players against the NFL found that in 2008 and 2009, the New York Jets gave out 2,859 doses of highly addictive Vicodin to its players.
The numbers are similarly high for other teams, and the court documents allege that teams violated federal laws governing prescription drugs and disregarded guidance from the Drug Enforcement Administration guidance on how to store, track, transport and distribute controlled substances.
In March, the Centers for Disease Control issued guidelines that urged primary-care doctors to avoid prescribing powerful opiate painkillers for patients with chronic pain, citing their high addiction rates. A 2014 review of 39 studies investigating the efficacy of opiate painkillers for chronic pain found that they actually may do more harm than good: “Evidence on long-term opioid therapy for chronic pain is very limited but suggests an increased risk of serious harms that appear to be dose-dependent.”
But Goodell apparently won’t even consider what many believe to be a safer alternative to pain relief even though the tide clearly is turning against such stances, even within league circles. At best, he’s being exceedingly overcautious.
“We look at it from a medical standpoint,” Goodell said Friday. “So if people feel that it has a medical benefit, the medical advisers have to tell you that. We have joint advisers, we also have independent advisers, both the NFLPA and the NFL, and we’ll sit down and talk about that. But we’ve been studying that through our advisers. To date, they haven’t said this is a change we think you should make that’s in the best interests of the health and safety of our players. If they do, we’re certainly going to consider that. But to date, they haven’t really said that.”
Jerry Jones — the league’s most powerful owner — reportedly urged his fellow owners to drop the prohibition on marijuana at the NFL owners’ meetings in March. Such a move must be worked out in collective bargaining between the owners and the players, and the current CBA runs through 2020. Until then, Goodell appears content to take a hard-line stance on an issue that could effectively help NFL players deal with their pain.