Painkillers in the NFL

When we think of sports and drug abuse, we typically think of performance-enhancing steroids—the kind notoriously used by cyclist Lance Armstrong or baseball players such as Mark McGuire or Barry Bonds. However, the rampant abuse of steroids seems to be taking a backburner to another drug problem in the athletic community–prescription opioid abuse. Once internally known as a dirty little secret of the sports industry, painkiller abuse amongst athletes has consistently been making national news, bringing light to a dangerous trend amongst sports stars — one that often leads to dependency, crime, and ultimate fatality.

Reckless Painkiller Abuse

Painkiller abuse is extremely prevalent in pro sports. Numerous professional athletes have stepped forward, claiming that pill popping is very common. While it is true that most pro sports have seen their share of reckless pain management methods, the NFL seems to be riddled with more cases of misuse and addiction than any other professional athletic organization.

Painkillers like Vicodin and Percocet help keep players in the game regardless of chronic injuries, after all. Torn ligament? Pop a pill. Concussion? Take two of these and call the team physician in the morning that will likely prescribe you a few more than two. Powerful painkillers are used to mask serious injuries on a regular and highly reckless basis. According to a 2012 lawsuit against the NFL, each team was prescribed 5,777 doses of anti-inflammatories and 2,270 doses of narcotics. If these amounts are true, that means each player could receive 150 doses during the year.1

Famous Cases

One of the most well-known athletes to admit struggling with painkiller addiction is NFL pro quarterback Brett Favre of the Green Bay Packers. In 1996, he publically admitted that he struggled with an addiction to Vicodin, and spent 45 days in a rehab facility. In 2014, eight ex-NFL players sued the league for unethical use of pain medication. Once the lawsuit was established, nearly 500 other players joined. Attorney Phil Closius stated, “We’re confident this was a league-wide, league-supplied drug culture.”2 A further investigation was triggered by this massive, class action lawsuit. Soon, federal agents began examining the potentially life-threatening practice.

This case brought to light the fact that many ex-players turn to street dealers when they leave the NFL, and that the careless act of illegal dispensation frequently leads to a host of serious consequences later down the line. While many other players keep their personal battles with addiction under wraps, there is no shortage of substance dependency throughout the national league or amongst ex-players. Since this lawsuit as first covered, nearly 1,300 NFL players have stepped forward.

Painkillers in the NFL – A Major Issue

52 percent of retired nfl players used painkillers in leagueIt was recently concluded that retired NFL players abuse prescription painkillers roughly four times more than members of the general population – a direct result of excessive use throughout their professional careers.

Research has found that 52 percent of retired NFL players used painkillers during their time in the league.3 These findings suggest that not enough is being done to adequately treat injured or impaired athletes. Masking the issue with a quick-fix form of temporary relief only leads to more problems in the long run. Life-threatening problems, such as addiction and lethal overdose, have become all too prevalent amongst professional athletes – and while actions are finally being taken, the issue is far from resolved.

Awareness: The Silver Lining

However, this issue does have a silver lining as a fair amount of good has sprung from the issue at hand. There is an increased awareness of the issue at hand has the potential to help significantly. It is important to keep in mind that addiction is a highly progressive and entirely non-discriminatory disease. Everyone is susceptible to substance dependency. The ethical treatment of athletes must be taken into careful consideration, and the rampant misuse of potent narcotic painkillers must be consistently brought to light.

If you or someone you love struggles with an addiction to painkillers, please know that help is only a phone call away. We at The Oaks are ready to help you move forward with the highest quality treatment available. Please pick up the phone now so you can live a life without drugs.

1 Kounang, Nadia. “Lawsuit Alleges That NFL Teams Gave Painkillers Recklessly.” CNN. 13 March 2017.

2 Jenkins, Sally. “Two Former NFL Players Describe Prescription Drug Practices.” Washington Post.27 November 2014.

3 Barr, John. “Painkiller Misuse Numbs NFL Pain.” ESPN. Accessed 9 January 2018.

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