A federal criminal investigation of prescription drug abuse in the National Football League will fall hardest on team doctors and trainers who kept players on the field by feeding them painkillers, a New York criminal defense lawyer told Newsmax TV
A lawsuit over painkiller abuse
filed by almost 1,300 retired players could worsen matters for a league still reeling from accusations that it mishandled players' head injuries, Adam Thompson told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner.
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"This could be much, much, much worse than steroids was to baseball," said Thompson.
The civil suit filed in May, and a related Drug Enforcement Administration probe disclosed on Saturday by the New York Daily News,
will seek to determine whether teams doped up injured players to keep them in games, and without regard to the long-term risks of drug addiction
or other complications.
Thompson argued that if the drug abuse is as systematic as the retirees' lawsuit claims, the fault lies less with the athletes and more with the league, the franchises and the team employees whose job it is to protect players' health.
"Listen, players want to play," said Thompson. "They want to get their big contracts. More importantly, owners want to make the maximum profit they can, so they want to keep people in the seats with a winning team. How do you keep a winning team in a brutal sport like football? You've got to keep them medicated and get them out on the field."
He also said the players will argue — correctly — that they could not have known about the long-term effects of continuous painkiller use — "the breakdown of the body and everything else, like [with] steroids, that follows," said Thompson.
"They're going to argue negligence on the part of the team and the doctors for allowing them to use [prescription painkillers] and not properly informing them [of the dangers]," he said. "It's going to have some weight and it's going to be a strong case."
He said the criminal investigation will start with team trainers, who, he said, "under the law aren't allowed to give out prescriptions."
"They'll be the ones that the government goes after when they do this investigation to try to say, 'Listen, we know that you were injecting people and giving out medications. You're not supposed to do it. We'll strip your license and you'll never work again.' They're going to pressure them to talk," said Thompson.
"Then they'll go after the doctors next, saying, 'Listen, if you're giving out medications, everybody knows that first you've got to do an exam and then you've got to show them medical necessity for the need for the drug,'" said Thompson.
"If they [team doctors] can't do those things, then the doctors' licenses are an issue and they may even face charges," he said.
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