A U.S. District judge unsealed documents Friday in a lawsuit filed by former NFL players against their former teams alleging improper administration of powerful pain medication. The documents make public details the NFL Players Association categorized as alarming.
Most of the information made public Friday had been reported by The Washington Post in a story published Thursday that revealed details and communications involving team and league officials related to the handling and administration of pain medication. That information was initially redacted in a court filing related to the lawsuit because the lawyers for both sides agreed to a protective order in the case. The Post was able to view the full complaint — but not the attached exhibits — because of a technical error in the filing.
The lawyers representing the NFL teams faced a deadline earlier this week to file an argument with U.S. District Judge William Alsup as to why the information should remain sealed. When they didn’t, Alsup unsealed the entire filing, including the exhibits.
The attached exhibits include information on prescription drugs administered by the Steelers, Colts and Jets. It also includes an eight-page chart documenting multitudes of occasions when teams traveled with and dispensed controlled substances on the road, in violations of federal regulations. The chart cites team drug logs and travel inventories of doctors’ kits containing Vicodin, Ambien, Codeine and the like.
“The NFLPA is alarmed by the revelations in the lawsuit filed by former NFL players on the abuse of prescription drugs,” the players’ union said in a statement Friday. “While we are not a party to the case, the reporting by The Washington Post and Deadspin are cause for our continued concern and vigilance for holding the league accountable to its obligations. We will monitor this case closely and take all steps necessary to ensure the health and safety of our players.”
The filing was made by lawyers representing 1,800 former players suing the teams in federal court, claiming they suffer organ and joint damage as a result of improper treatment they received during their playing careers.
Much of the material was collected by the ex-players’ attorneys as part of the discovery process in the case, which included depositions with at least 11 team and league medical officials and the collection of “hundreds of thousands of pages of documents.”
The unsealed exhibits all support some of the details cited in the players’ complaint. They included a 2013 memo from Dr. Lawrence Brown, the league’s medical advisor on drug issues, to the Steelers’ team physician. In the memo, Brown cites a biannual audit that had been conducted and notes that the Steelers dispensed more than 9,600 doses of pain medications to its players in 2012. Brown said the Steelers prescribed seven types of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and 17 types of controlled substances. He also noted there were documented instances of non-physicians dispensing the medications, which would be a violation of federal regulations.
Another exhibit attached to the case is a drug inventory from the Indianapolis Colts to the league office for 2005-04 that includes a list of 77 medications kept on hand by the team medical staff, including seven controlled substances such as Ambien, Valium, Vicodin and Codeine, and six NSAIDS Bextra, Celebrex, Indocin, Naproxen and both pill and injectable Toradol.
Another chart shows drug distribution for the Jets, indicating the team’s dosages of both Vicodin and Toradol increased annually from 2005-08.
An NFL spokesman this week called the ex-players claims “meritless” and said teams’ medical staffs “continue to put the health and safety of our players first, providing all NFL players with the highest quality medical care. Any claim or suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong.”