More than 500 former NFL players have signed on to a class-action suit that charges the league with providing prescription medication rather than dealing with injuries. Many of the players were addicted to pain pills.
"I was provided uppers, downers, painkillers, you name it while in the NFL," says J.D. Hill, a wide receiver who played for the Bills and the Lions in the '70s. "I became addicted and turned to the streets after my career and was homeless. Never took a drug in my life, and I became a junkie in the NFL."
Teams routinely passed out Vicodins and Percocets, addicting players, many of whom continued to have drug-related problems after leaving the league.
Super Bowl quarterback Jim McMahon played with injuries he was never informed of, including a broken neck and ankle. Hopped up on pharmaceuticals, players were urged to get back on the field. McMahon, who led the Bears to the league championship in 1985, took as many as 100 Percocets a month at one point.
After the free flow of drugs in the locker room, players were left with habits that they couldn't afford when their careers ended. In the most extreme cases, like Hill's, they became destitute.
"The NFL knew of the debilitating effects of these drugs on all of its players and callously ignored the players' long-term health in its obsession to return them to play," contends Steven Silverman, one of the lawyers representing the players.
The suit claims teams illegally acquired drugs in players' names without them knowing it. “Every player has told me they were given white envelopes with pills and told, ‘This one is for pain; this one is for sleep,’" explains Dr. William Focazio of Pain Alternatives, Solutions and Treatments. "The injuries we treat are much worse than they should have been because the league let these guys play when they should have been resting.”
Current players and coaches have been promoting marijuana as an alternative to prescription medication. The NFL has not changed it stance yet, but is reportedly considering taking a more lenient approach to players' cannabis use.