Safety and OSHA News

Prescription pain killers: The NFL story

To educate employees about the dangers of prolonged use of prescription painkillers, companies might want to share stories that recently came to light from former professional football players.

Retired NFL players have filed a lawsuit claiming the league illegally supplied them with narcotics and other painkillers without prescriptions. Result: complications down the road including addiction.

The players say they were never warned about the potential side effects of the medications. Why did the NFL do this? The players say it was to keep them on the field to maximize profits at the expense of their health.

The lawsuit names eight specific former players, but more than 500 have signed on.

Here are some of the stories that have come to light in the wake of the lawsuit:

  • Former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon says doctors didn’t tell him about injuries including a broken neck and ankle. Instead they prescribed painkillers to get him back on the field. McMahon says he became addicted to painkillers. At one point he was taking more than 100 Percocet pills per month.
  • Former Chicago Bears offensive lineman Keith Van Horne played an entire season on a broken leg and wasn’t told about the injury for five years, “during which time he was fed a constant diet of pills to deal with the pain.”

Besides addiction, the players say other long-term effects they still suffer from include heart, lung and nerve dysfunction; kidney failure; and muscle and bone disfigurement.

Put another way: For a short-term benefit (staying on the playing field), the players suffered long-term health consequences.

What can employers do?

If you’re reading this, it’s not news to you that abuse of legal drugs can have a serious impact on the workplace.

But your employees may not be as aware of the consequences. Educating them about the potential harmful effects of prescription drug abuse can help to close that knowledge gap.

You can use the stories of the former NFL players to show workers what can happen if they decide to work through the pain with the aid of prescription medication.

From stories we’ve heard and read, it seems it’s also necessary to tell employees that it’s not OK to take a friend’s or family member’s prescription pain pill. If they’re in that much pain that they’d consider taking someone else’s prescribed pain meds, they should see a doctor instead.

Finding out whether an employee has a prescription drug abuse problem is tricky. It’s against the law in many situations to ask employees whether they are taking prescribed medications such as painkillers.

To get through this legal mine field, tap into the resources of the Technical Assistance Center on the Prevention of Prescription Drug Abuse in the Workplace (PAW TA Center). The Center provides technical assistance and resources to meet the needs of specific types of workplaces.

Your workers’ comp insurance company can also help. Some have emphasized identifying long-term users of painkillers.

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  1. I teach a lot about the subject of Risk Tolerance, what people are willing to accept for a goal. These players are good examples for my classes. This is the same group of players that said the NFL hid information from them about the dangers of concussions. Anyone with a dictionary can look up the definition of a concussion and learn that it’s a “traumatic brain injury”. That a group of college educated men, with families, sports agents, etc around them could not know that concussions are bad, or that abusing pain medication is bad, just doesn’t sound right, to me.
    I believe these guys had an extremely high risk tolerance as well paid celebrities who made decisions that they regret 30 years later. Instead of owning up to their responsibility they are blaming the NFL for doing this to them.

  2. Dennis Forsythe says:

    On the flip side of what you stated I was hurt at work with an end result of permanent nerve and physical damages. If you are in a position that there are folk dependent on what it is you do be it family or your employer there is massive pressure to keep preforming……..”Bringing home the bacon”. In particular if you have someone who is disabled that needs care and has no income as well as organizations that mandate performance above all “Get it done” And the constant What is wrong with you? You have no loyalty if your hurt sick etc. In addition it is viewed (and your told you’ll be replaced and you will ruined for life) as your sabotaging etc.
    This is particularly true of professions like sports or management where you have worked and fought your way to get where you are. I had a partner who was terminally ill (Now I am a widower) and I had no time for school. I had to work hard learn what it was I set out to do to get the $ we desperately needed (Disability took 10 years to get). Then when I was injured and confined to bed I was called in forced to work (it was implied I was faking and would be fired so I LIED TO MY Dr) soon I was at which point I became unable to work it took a year to return to work. I have been in the hospital several times and am still in therapy for that OTJ injury in 1993.
    Many of those folk came from a background where daily life is a struggle. They are aware there are many who would step in their shoes who would love to step in their place. Organizations are there to make $ or whatever is needed. The staff is there to get that objective. If you are scared because you been in a space where you feel or are convinced this is your only option you will do whatever is needed to “better” yourself and or take care of those you love. I fully understand how those players feel….And not the least of it is to be betrayed by their team managers and their management…It is likely that many are in continuous pain and are disfigured and or disabled. Pain can ruin your life if there is no relief.

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