NFL de­fends its pre­scrip­tion drug use

In let­ter to Congress, league says its doc­tors were fol­low­ing guide­lines

The Washington Post - - BASEBALL - BY RICK MAESE

In a re­ply to mem­bers of a con­gres­sional com­mit­tee, the NFL said that its club doc­tors were re­ly­ing on guid­ance from the Drug En­force­ment Ad­min­is­tra­tion over the proper han­dling of con­trolled sub­stances, ad­vice given years be­fore the agency launched an investigation into the league.

In the wake of al­le­ga­tions levied in a fed­eral law­suit filed by former play­ers, four Demo­cratic mem­bers of the House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee last month asked the league to ex­plain how its teams ad­min­is­tered drugs and whether they were in com­pli­ance with the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act. In a 12-page re­sponse signed by Dennis Cur­ran, the NFL’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent and gen­eral coun­sel, and de­liv­ered to the law­mak­ers Wed­nes­day, the league said the NFL teams had con­sulted for many years with the DEA and be­lieved they were fol­low­ing the law.

Cur­ran cited a 1994 let­ter to the former Dol­phins team doc­tor from a DEA of­fi­cial that said teams could travel and ad­min­is­ter pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions on the road. “At lo­ca­tions where drugs are not stored, or on do­mes­tic road trips, the prac­ti­tioner may dis­pense or ad­min­is­ter con­trolled sub­stances from a med­i­cal bag,” the DEA said, ac­cord­ing to Cur­ran’s let­ter to the law­mak­ers.

That ad­vice runs counter to what the agency later told the NFL. In 2011, a DEA of­fi­cial met with med­i­cal staffs from all 32 teams and de­liv­ered a 90-minute pre­sen­ta­tion on the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act, warn­ing the doc­tors against trav­el­ing with con­trolled sub­stances, ad­min­is­ter­ing them at road games, im­prop­erly stor­ing them at team fa­cil­i­ties and al­low­ing ath­letic train­ers to dis­pense them to play­ers.

Those is­sues would later form much of the foun­da­tion for a fed­eral law­suit filed by former NFL play­ers who al­lege team doc­tors im­prop­erly ad­min­is­tered pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions over sev­eral years. The DEA also ac­knowl­edged in 2014 that it launched an investigation into the NFL teams.

The NFL’s re­sponse to the law­mak­ers marked the league’s most ex­pan­sive ex­pla­na­tion to date of the teams’ use of pre­scrip­tion pain med­i­ca­tion and its most de­tailed re­sponse to the al­le­ga­tions posed by ex-play­ers. In its let­ter to the con­gress­men, the league did not protest some of the ex-play­ers’ charges — that teams trav­eled with con­trolled sub­stances, that doc­tors ad­min­is­tered med­i­ca­tions on the road, that ath­letic train­ers dis­pensed med­i­ca­tions at times. Rather the league said its teams were act­ing in ac­cor­dance with its un­der­stand­ing of the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act at the time.

For ex­am­ple, Cur­ran wrote that team train­ers who dis­pensed medicine “did so at the di­rec­tion — and un­der the su­per­vi­sion — of club physi­cians.”

“This was not a vi­o­la­tion of the law,” he wrote, “to the con­trary, the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act ex­pressly pro­vides that an au­tho­rized agent of a prac­ti­tioner may ad­min­is­ter a con­trolled sub­stance in the pres­ence of the prac­ti­tioner. . . . Ath­letic train­ers are au­tho­rized agents of the club physi­cians.”

He also told the law­mak­ers that NFL teams now use elec­tronic med­i­cal records to en­sure proper record-keep­ing and that play­ers are prop­erly ad­vised of their “med­i­ca­tions, their uses, ben­e­fits, and risks, and that club physi­cians have taken player med­i­cal his­tory into ac­count when treat­ing play­ers.”

The con­gress­men asked specif­i­cally about To­radol, a pow­er­ful non­s­teroidal anti-in­flam­ma­tory, ask­ing how fre­quently it was used and whether the NFL keeps records of its use. Cur­ran said in­di­vid­ual clubs main­tain records and while To­radol use varies from team to team, he did not share any details in his let­ter. The former play­ers’ law­suit said 30 to 35 play­ers would line up to re­ceive To­radol be­fore games in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the pain they would ex­pe­ri­ence on the field. One Steel­ers team doc­tor “tes­ti­fied that even last sea­son, he wit­nessed play­ers lin­ing up for the ‘ T Train,’ ” ac­cord­ing to the ex-play­ers’ com­plaint.

Cur­ran wrote: “Each provi­sion of To­radol to an NFL player by a team physi­cian rep­re­sents the re­sult of an in­di­vid­ual doc­tor-pa­tient con­sul­ta­tion, and the physi­cian’s con­clu­sion that To­radol should be ad­min­is­tered.”

The let­ter did not delve much into the quan­tity of pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions teams give play­ers to take the field each week, but it did parcel out some of the num­bers cited in the law­suit. Ac­cord­ing to a 2012 drug au­dit, the Steel­ers pro­vided their play­ers 7,442 doses of NSAIDs and 2,123 doses of un­named con­trolled med­i­ca­tions in a sin­gle sea­son. Cur­ran noted that nearly half of those con­trolled sub­stances were ei­ther Am­bien or Ad­der­all — not pain med­i­ca­tion — and that team doc­tors ad­min­is­tered 108 To­radol in­jec­tions that year.

“Th­ese world-class team doc­tors — who are associated with and sup­ported by our na­tion’s lead­ing hospitals, health care sys­tems and re­search in­sti­tu­tions — pro­vide ex­pert med­i­cal care and sup­port to play­ers on and off the field,” he wrote.

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