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DEA Moves on NFL

The Drug Enforcement Agency begins a new sweep of NFL franchises.

Andrew Burton

wrote a piece last summer about the little-known world of painkillers in the NFL, citing some dubious examples on behalf of organizations like the New Orleans Saints, who were busted on numerous accounts in their handling of narcotic pain killers.

New Investigations

The DEA and NFL confirmed that they had launched "administrative" investigations of several NFL squads, citing the San Fransisco 49ers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers by name. Both reports labeled the conversations as cursory. But it isn't that nobody was led out in cuffs that is striking. It's that such investigation is necessary in the first place. NFL teams have been allowed far too liberal freedoms in the way that they utilize doctors to treat their players. In the world of pain killers, these unregulated and often unmonitored practices invite abuse. Not only this, but without proper evaluation, risks to player's health goes unchecked, issues that can linger long after he has hung up his cleats.

Some of the biggest violations came on claims of mishandling of narcotic pain killers, including Percocet, and blood thinning NSAID's like Toradol. The latter is interesting in that thinning the blood in a prophylactic fashion can potentially mask injuries sustained while on the field. Nowhere is this more concerning than in the case of concussions, where continued play could result in long-term health implications. The Saints were busted with unregulated pain killers on site, in which team staff (namely Joe Vitt) was caught on film repeatedly dipping into the "stash". But the punishments handed down were behind closed doors, not the kind of bust you would see in an everyday public business or even a Physician's office.

On the matter of Percocets, a schedule II narcotic pain reliever (combination of Oxycodone and Acetaminophen), the DEA has been cracking down throughout the nation on Physicians, Pharmacies, and even Hospitals. Such medications are controlled substances, and their distribution can only be handled through those licensed to do so. Gone are the days where Physicians could dispense such medications in their office, and rightly so. It created a system that was easy to abuse, and led to the creation of thousands of illegitimate "pill mills" throughout the US.

I chimed in on this issue over the Summer as well, but it remains as one of the primary causes of this DEA sweep through the NFL; the existence of pain killers on site at NFL practice facilities, and their dispensary nature that goes along with it. In today's hyper-strict environment that the DEA has created (since revolutionary 2010 laws came into effect), the idea that these substances can be dispensed directly to players on-site is a major red flag. This cuts out any regulatory overwatch, physician monitoring and consultation, and in general provides an environment in which Opioid mis-use/abuse is easy to hide.

Other NFL teams are among those inspected, and the DEA announced that their sweep will continue. These issues will be looked at under the microscope. While no grievances were filed, it sends a notice to NFL management and team physios that they are subject to the same drug laws as the rest of the nation. Even Physicians on team retainers will need to be careful about how they practice; as the slightest infractions can cause serious risks to player/patient health.

As we've seen with the retired players' union suits, dropping the ball on such a matter could cost the NFL untold billions.