Washington (AFP) - National Football League (NFL) teams violated federal laws on prescription drugs in peddling powerful painkillers and anti-inflammatories to players, according to sealed court documents from a federal lawsuit filed by former players, the Washington Post reported on Friday.
At issue is how NFL team doctors manage to keep players on the field while coping with the pain inflicted upon players in a hard-hitting game and the world's richest sport league.
Without disclosing how it was able to review the material, the newspaper saw testimony and documents from team and NFL medical personnel describing multiple times when team and NFL officials were made aware of abuse, record-keeping issues and violations of federal law and were slow to respond or failed to comply.
NFL teams disregarded strict guidelines from the Drug Enforcement Administration on how to store, track, transport and distribute controlled substances, the report said.
"Every doctor deposed so far... has testified that they violated one or more" federal drug laws and regulations "while serving in their capacity as a team doctor," the filing said.
Anthony Yates, the Pittsburgh Steelers' team doctor and past president of the NFL Physicians Society, testified in a deposition that "a majority of clubs as of 2010 had trainers controlling and handling prescription medications and controlled substances when they should not have".
Cincinnati Bengals head trainer Paul Sparling wrote in an e-mail: "Can you have your office fax a copy of your DEA certificate to me? I need it for my records when the NFL 'pill counters' come to see if we are doing things right. Don't worry, I'm pretty good at keeping them off the trail!"
The filing revealed NFL teams dispense painkillers and prescription-strength anti-inflammatories in far larger amounts than every made public.
In 2012, the average NFL team prescribed nearly 5,777 doses of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and 2,213 doses of controlled medications to players, according to a 2013 internal document from Lawrence Brown, the NFL-employed medical adviser who oversees drug issues.
That could average out to six to seven pain pills or injections a week per player over the course of a typical NFL season, although sports medicine experts told the Post it was unlikely drugs were distributed evenly over a full roster or that team logs represented the full extent of medications players used to manage their pain.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told the Post the allegations "are meritless and the league and its clubs will continue to vigorously defend these claims," saying to the Post in an e-mail that all NFL clubs and medical staffs are in compliance with the Controlled Substances Act.