NFL Players Sue Over Painkiller Use

By Joe Schrank 12/07/11

A new lawsuit filed by retired NFLers over the league-wide use of a powerful painkiller begs a question: Who's looking out for the players?

Joe Horn as a Saint

Over the past year, three NHL "enforcers" died in various circumstances—substance abuse was involved each time. Now, pro football players are stepping forward. Joe Horn, a retired receiver who played with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Atlanta Falcons, and the New Orleans Saints, and 11 other players have launched a lawsuit, alleging that a powerful painkiller was used dangerously during games.

According to Horn, NFL teams routinely administered a drug called Toradol in the locker room. The players' lawsuit describes scenes "in a pregame locker room with players lining up to receive injections of Toradol in a ‘cattle call’ with no warnings of any sort being given, no distinguishing between different medical conditions of the players, and regardless of whether the player had an injury of any kind." They were never told of the potential risks, such as the increased vulnerability to injury painkillers create—without pain, there's nothing telling the body not to play at full speed.

Toradol is generally used as a post operative drug to treat pain, and usually for no more than five days. In the UK, doctors administer it only when one is hospitalized, not when a player needs treatment the normal bumps and bruises after a football game.The league maintains it did nothing reckless or negligent. Whether or not the judge agrees with the players, a vital question remains unanswered: Who is responsible for the players' treatment? While no one held a gun to their heads and forced the injections, football is a militaristic system—following orders is crucial to the management of the team. "Just say no" doesn't seem like a viable option.

The NFL, and sports in general, has a long tenuous relationship with chemical use and misuse, it's ironic that sports at all levels have extensive medical professionals for physical injuries but no staff for other areas of functionality, like counseling before taking a dangerous substance and monitoring substances from a social perspective. What would happen if NFL teams integrated a social worker in the staff? They could, perhaps, avoid some of these situations by doing so. But of course that could compromise the level of play.

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Joe Schrank is a writer and social worker in NYC. He was one of the founders of TheFix and is a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post, Gawker, Salon, and Fox News. Intoxicant-free for 18 years, Joe remains a depressed disgruntled alcoholic. You can find Joe on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.