Congress asks NFL, DEA for info on prescription drugs

Four Congress members are seeking information from the NFL and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) about allegations that NFL teams frequently violated federal laws that govern how controlled substances and prescription drugs are stored, tracked and distributed to players and personnel.

Last week, The Washington Post published information from sealed court documents that suggest NFL teams and doctors had a "cavalier attitude" toward federal drug-handling and prescribing guidelines.

On Wednesday, Reps. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), Gene Green (D-Texas), Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) -- all members of the House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce Committee -- sent separate letters to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and DEA acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg, requesting the information.

"We are writing to request additional information regarding troubling allegations that personnel of National Football League teams violated various federal laws governing prescription drugs, and administered powerful narcotics and pain medications without adequately disclosing the risks and side effects to their players," the four lawmakers wrote in their letters to Goodell.

"These allegations suggest a troubling lack of respect for the laws governing the handling of controlled substances, and raise questions about the League's dedication to the health and safety of its players."

The court documents, published by The Washington Post, are part of an ongoing federal lawsuit filed by more than 1,800 former NFL players and include testimony from team doctors and trainers. The players, who are suing the NFL in U.S. District Court in Northern California, claim they suffered long-term health problems as a result of the improper and deceptive drug-distribution practices by NFL teams, according to the court filing.

"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 court filing states.

For example, 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," according to the Post report.

Bud Carpenter, the Buffalo Bills' longtime trainer, "admitted under oath that he witnessed team doctors give players injections of prescription medications without telling them what the drug was they were receiving or its side effects. ... He further testified that doctors provided prescription medications at places other than where they were allowed to do so in violation of federal and state laws," according to the court filing reviewed by the Post.

The DEA has clear guidelines on how doctors should store, transport and distribute prescription painkillers, which are considered controlled substances.

As part of their request to the NFL on Wednesday, the Democratic committee leaders are seeking answers to several questions:

• Did non-physician trainers at any time administer or dispense Toradol or any controlled substance to former or current NFL players?

• In cases in which prescription medicines were administered or dispensed, were NFL players provided with all information regarding the drugs they were given, including dosage amounts, possible side effects and reasons for receiving the drugs?

• Did the NFL maintain records of all prescription drugs -- including any controlled substances -- administered or dispensed to each NFL player? If so, whose job was it to collect those records, and are they still in the NFL's possession?

• What DEA guidance did the NFL receive regarding the storage, transport and distribution of controlled substances, and has the NFL followed all DEA guidance?

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told the Post that the allegations contained in the court filing "are meritless, and the league and its clubs will continue to vigorously defend these claims."

"The NFL clubs and their medical staffs are all in compliance with the Controlled Substances Act," McCarthy said in an email. "... The NFL clubs and their medical staffs continue to put the health and safety of our players first, providing all NFL players with the highest quality medical care. Any claim or suggestion to the contrary is simply wrong."

In January 2011, Outside the Lines ran a series of reports on painkiller misuse by former NFL players. The central component of that reporting was a first-of-its-kind study of painkiller use by retired NFL players.

The study, funded by ESPN and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, was published in the peer-reviewed journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.

Researchers from the School of Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis interviewed 644 retired NFL players, asking them extensive questions about their use and misuse of prescription painkillers, both as active players and in their present lives.

The study found that retired NFL players misuse opioid pain medications at a rate more than four times that of the general population and suggested that was because players misused those drugs during their NFL careers.

Other key findings from the study:

• Of the retired players, 52 percent said they used prescription pain medication during their playing days. Of those, 71 percent said they misused the drugs then, and 15 percent of the misusers acknowledged misusing the medication within the past 30 days.

• Those who misused prescription painkillers while playing were three times more likely to misuse the drugs after their careers than those who used the pills as prescribed while playing.

• Of the retired players, 63 percent who used prescription pain pills while playing obtained the medications from a nonmedical source, such as a teammate, coach, trainer, family member, dealer or the internet.

Several retired NFL players told researchers and Outside the Lines at the time that it was commonplace for trainers to hand out prescription pain pills. Under the law, only a doctor with the authority to write prescriptions can distribute controlled substances such as Vicodin and OxyContin.

While it's illegal for team doctors to transport and distribute medications outside of the states where they have the authority to prescribe the painkillers, several retired players told Outside the Lines that, too, was a common practice.

ESPN investigative reporters John Barr and Mark Fainaru-Wada contributed to this report.