Judge Dismisses Most of NFL Painkiller Suit

By Kelly Burch 05/19/17

Retired players alleged that teams gave out medication without explaining the potential "side effects, risks, or appropriate directions.”

American football player in uniform running a football down the sidelines.

A federal judge has dismissed most of a case brought by former NFL players alleging that the league illegally dispensed painkillers in violation of federal prescription laws. 

Federal Judge William Alsup did not address the claims that the NFL teams violated prescription laws. Instead, he focused on whether the players named in the lawsuit had explained the health issues they suffered because of the prescriptions, and whether or not the cases were within the statute of limitations, according to The Washington Post. He found the players’ case lacking, dismissing most of it because the plaintiffs' statements included “disorganized, frequently boilerplate, and sometimes contradictory statements,” according to ESPN.

Alsup also noted issues with the legal framework of the case. “Only a fraction of the allegations… actually pertain to plaintiffs; the rest concern putative class members…But as the undersigned judge has repeatedly noted, this is not yet a class action,” he wrote, according to the New York Daily News

The lawsuit was brought in 2015 and targeted the 32 NFL teams rather than the league itself. Retired players alleged that the “clubs dispensed medication to plaintiffs without making legally required disclosures about side effects, risks, or appropriate directions.”

However, Alsup said that only one plaintiff in the suit, former wide receiver Jeffrey Graham “actually relied on this concealment and would have behaved differently had some legally required disclosure been made.” However, 11 of the 14 valid claims were prevented from moving forward because the statute of limitations (three years) had passed. 

The three claims that Alsup deemed can move forward, according to The Washington Post, are Reggie Walker’s claim against the Chargers involving a 2014 injury and Alphonso Carreker’s claims against the Packers and the Broncos, “which are based on continuous excessive use of medication instead of musculoskeletal injuries sustained in the NFL and also may have accrued after May 2012,” Alsup wrote. 

Although the NFL would seemingly be pleased with this week’s ruling, the league is still facing accusations of excessive use and misuse of painkillers. Another case currently pending—Dent v. NFL—alleges that there is widespread prescription drug abuse throughout the league. The case involves hundreds of retired NFL players, and will come through the same San Francisco federal courthouse that Alsup made his ruling in. A motion to dismiss has been filed in the Dent case and is awaiting a ruling. 

In March The Washington Post published sealed documents showing the extent of prescription drug use in the NFL, calling into question the motivation behind this. 

“It sounds like an incredible amount of intervention with some pretty risky drugs, some of which, in the case of Vicodin, have a high addiction potential,” Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center and co-founder of the NYU Sports and Society Program, told the newspaper at the time. “It makes you think, are the physicians looking out for the health of the players, or are they just trying to keep them on the field?”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.