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Lawsuit: DEA Warnings Didn't Stop NFL Doctors From Repeatedly Breaking Federal Drug Law

An exhibit attached to a lawsuit filed by former players against the 32 NFL teams in federal court in San Francisco contains a log appearing to show audited instances of NFL teams traveling with controlled substances in violation of federal regulations.

The logs detail apparent near-universal violations of regulations league physicians were made explicitly aware of during a 2011 visit by a senior DEA agent to the NFL Combine.


(This exhibit, like others, was previously filed under seal. U.S. District Judge William Alsup ordered earlier this week that the seals be removed when no documents were filed with the court, other than the initial request by the plaintiffs, in support of keeping the seals.)

The DEA first took notice of the NFL’s distribution of controlled substances “after a Chargers player was found with 100 Vicodin in his possession after being arrested, all of which came from the Chargers’ Dr. David Chao, and the Saints were involved with arbitration regarding the theft of controlled substances from their locker room,” according to the filing.

At that time the DEA gave a presentation to eight NFL physicians—including infamous quack Elliot Pellman—that stated what should have been obvious: “Physicians cannot travel across state lines with stock bottles”; “Intermediaries are not allowed to dispense controlled substances”; “Physicians cannot write a prescription for [or administer or dispense] controlled substances other than in the state where they are registered.” Specifically, the DEA told the NFL physicians that team trainers should not be giving pain pills to players.


The NFL scrambled to avoid a DEA crackdown and communicate the standards to the league’s physicians, and in 2011, DEA agent Joe Rannazzisi met with the NFL Physicians Society at the Combine to make clear the agency’s regulations on controlled substances.

The lawsuit states:

Yet it took until 2015 for the League to implement a policy that all Clubs had to follow – and then only in response to DEA raids of teams traveling with controlled substances – in which, rather than travel with controlled substances, each team had to have independent doctors registered in their home state to act as intermediaries for dispensing controlled substances to visiting teams. In the years between 2011 and the implementation of that policy, upon information and belief, many teams continued to travel with controlled substances.


The raids were apparently unfruitful because, the lawsuit states, “the Clubs were tipped off by a DEA employee in advance of the raids.”

Teams were directed to keep records of medications their physicians acquired and prescribed during the course of the season, and were told that there would be league audits on the records, according to another exhibit in the filing. Included in the lawsuit filing as an exhibit was a detailed audit of the Indianapolis Colts from 2004-2005.


The following list is a list of violations found by teams traveling with controlled substances. The exhibit is vague; the exact range dates it covers are not noted anywhere in the filing.


There is little variation in how teams apparently violated controlled-substance regulations: physicians traveled to away games with the pain medication in their possession, and unlawfully distributed them to players at away games.

On the fifth page of the exhibit, the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams are noted to have not traveled with controlled substances as a matter of policy:


An email from one athletic trainer for the New York Jets to another two trainers was included in another exhibit in the filing. In the email are bar charts showing the massive increase in Vicodin and Toradol administration from 2005-2009.


The description of the Philadelphia Eagles’ practices regarding controlled substances is unique: The team’s policy for away games as of this unspecified date was changed to give players their Ambien prescriptions before leaving Pennsylvania, and to request pain medication from the home team.


An NFL spokesman sent Deadspin the following response to the lawsuit:

The allegations made by plaintiffs are meritless and the League and its clubs will continue vigorously to defend these claims. The NFL clubs and their medical staffs are all in compliance with the Controlled Substances Act. In order to ensure compliance, the DEA was invited to meet with team doctors and trainers to ensure they are properly educated on federal law and aware of the risk of non-compliance. Controlled substances are not stored at any NFL club facility. Moreover, a local physician is present at every game to handle visiting team medical needs, including emergency care, hospital admissions and dispensing of medicine. 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.


The NFLPA’s response to the lawsuit allegations is as follows:

The NFLPA is alarmed by the revelations in the lawsuit filed by former NFL players on the abuse of prescription drugs. While we are not a party to the case, the reporting by the Washington Post and Deadspin are cause for our continued concern and vigilance for holding the League accountable to its obligations. We will monitor this case closely and take all steps necessary to ensure the health and safety of our players.


The full exhibit is below:

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Lindsey Adler

Staff writer at Deadspin.

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