San Diego Chargers Stand by Pill-Popping Physician

By Jed Bickman 09/02/11
A slew of DUI's, malpractice suits and a rep as an accommodating pill dispenser have finally caught up with Dr. David Chao. So why are the San Diego Chargers so determined to keep him on?

Dr. David Chao: NFL Scrip Doctor Deadspin

The team doctor for the San Diego Chargers, David Chao, apparently doesn't let work get in the way of fun—or of feeding his addictions. After racking up two DUIs and being sued over 20 times since 1998, including four times by ball players for malpractice, this year the doctor settled a malpractice suit with a civilian for $2.2 million. Now he's reportedly under investigation for writing himself over 100 prescriptions between 2008 and 2010. When then-Chargers safety Kevin Ellison was pulled over with 100 Vicodin pills, Chao was linked to the case. And yet he remains fully employed by the Chargers. Whether he can keep his NFL job as the headlines darken remains to be seen. Chao came to be the Chargers’ lead physician after his partner, Gary Losse, who previously held the position, left the medical profession amid revelations of his addiction to prescription drugs. Chao inherited the medical practice, Losse’s Chargers position and—remarkably—seven lawsuits alleging that Chao had enabled, condoned and facilitated Losse’s addiction. After his most recent DUI, the California state medical board is recommending that Chao be disciplined with five years' probation. including psychiatric treatment and ethics training. But Chao has rejected the charge, calling it “unjustified and superfluous.” Despite the controversy swamping the Chargers' doctor, he may be more example than exception in a professional athletic league known for its brutality. Along with the concussions, broken bones and other frequent injuries comes a class of sports doctors who are quick with the painkillers to get players back on the field. Addiction to painkillers is a common problem for NFL players, who commonly report that they take “eight or nine” Vicodin at a time.

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Jed Bickman is a journalist and copywriter living in the greater New York City area. He is the associate editor at The New Press. You can find him on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.