OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - For decades the NFL illegally supplied painkillers to players to keep them in the game, without telling them the severity of their injuries or the side effects of the drugs, former players say in a federal class action.
"Rather than allowing players the opportunity to rest and heal, the NFL has illegally and unethically substituted pain medications for proper health care to keep the NFL's tsunami of dollars flowing," lead plaintiff Richard Dent says in the lawsuit.
Dent and the seven other named plaintiffs - Jeremy Newbery, Roy Green, J.D. Hill, Keith Van Horne, Ron Stone, Ron Pritchard and James McMahon - played for different teams at different times from 1969 to 2008.
They say the NFL cares more about its profits than its athletes' health.
"More games, longer seasons, shorter recovery between games, plus bigger and stronger players, equals more frequent and debilitating injuries. This is problematic for the league, which needs players on the field on every given Sunday so the money can keep rolling in," the lawsuit states.
To keep injured players in the game, the NFL supplies them with non-prescription opioids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and local anesthetics such as Lidocaine, with little regard for a player's medical history or potentially fatal interactions with other medications, the complaint states.
"Administering medications in this cavalier manner constitutes a fundamental misuse of carefully controlled prescription medications and a clear danger to the players," according to the complaint.
Among the medications handed out, the players say, were Percodan, Vicodin, Percocet, Prednisone, Toradol, Ambien and Celebrex. Toradol's complications include renal failure and increased risk of bleeding, but it is increasingly used on the athletes, according to the lawsuit.
"In the case of NFL players, Toradol is particularly problematic because it deadens feeling, inhibiting an athlete's ability to feel pain and sense injury. The problem with prophylactically using Toradol as a masking agent is that pain tells or even compels the player to stop. If a player cannot feel the pain, he exposes himself to further danger," the complaint states.
The NFL encouraged "the misuse of narcotic pain medications in combination with NSAIDs, anesthetics and other substances such as alcohol despite clear evidence of the potentially fatal interactions of such combinations. NFL doctors travel with their teams and know that players are being provided with such medications along with alcohol that the NFL provides on plane trips back from games," the athletes say.
A Washington Post survey found that nine out of 10 former players reported playing while hurt, 56 percent of whom said they did so frequently and 68 percent of whom said they did not feel they had a choice about whether to play, according to the complaint.
Van Horne, an offensive tackle for the Chicago Bears from 1981 to 1993, "played an entire season on a broken leg, the first month of which he required a special medical boot to reduce the swelling before he could suit up. He was not told about the broken leg for five years, during which time he was fed a constant diet of pills to deal with the pain," the complaint states.
Dent - who played for the Bears, the San Francisco 49ers, the Indianapolis Colts, and the Philadelphia Eagles - broke a bone in his foot in 1990, but followed the advice of his doctors and trainers and continued playing with the help of painkillers for the next eight weeks. He says he now has permanent nerve damage in that foot.
The named players says they received hundreds, if not thousands, of injections and pills from doctors and trainers, but never were told about the side effects of the medications.
Many of them say they became dependent on painkillers and were forced to buy over-the-counter drugs to satisfy their need after they stopped playing for the NFL.
They seek class certification, medical monitoring and punitive damages for fraud, fraudulent concealment, negligence, negligent misrepresentation, negligent hiring and retention, and loss of consortium.
They are represented by William Sinclair with Silverman Thompson Slutkin White in Baltimore.
The NFL is still trying to settle claims brought by former players who claim that injuries they suffered on the field were intensified due to the league's covering up information it had on concussions. A federal judge in Pennsylvania refused to approve a $765 million settlement with more than 4,000 players on the grounds that it does not contain enough money to properly compensate all the athletes.