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Ex-NFL players allege league illegally supplied them with drugs

Last Updated May 20, 2014 3:30 PM EDT

WASHINGTON - A group of retired NFL players says in a lawsuit filed Tuesday that the league, thirsty for profits, illegally supplied them with risky narcotics and other painkillers that numbed their injuries for games and led to medical complications down the road.

The league obtained and administered the drugs illegally, without prescriptions and without warning players of their potential side effects, to speed the return of injured players to the field and maximize profits, the lawsuit alleges. Players say they were never told about broken legs and ankles and instead were fed pills to mask the pain. One says that instead of surgery, he was given anti-inflammatories and skipped practices so he could play in money-making games. And others say that after years of free pills from the NFL, they retired from the league addicted to the painkillers.

Steven Silverman, attorney for the players, said the complaint was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in San Francisco, and a copy was shared with The Associated Press ahead of the filing.

"Our players were shot up like cattle, they were brought to market, and then discarded like pieces of meat," Silverman said.

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Quarterback Jim McMahon of the Chicago Bears during a game against the Buffalo Bills at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois on Oct. 2, 1988. The Bears won the game, 24-3.
Jonathan Daniel/Allsport/Getty Images

The complaint names eight players, including three members of the Super Bowl champion 1985 Chicago Bears: Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent, offensive lineman Keith Van Horne, and quarterback Jim McMahon. Lawyers seek class-action status, and they say in the filing that more than 400 other former players have signed on to the lawsuit.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, in Atlanta for the league's spring meetings, said on Tuesday: "We have not seen the lawsuit, and our attorneys have not had an opportunity to review it."

Former offensive lineman Jeremy Newberry describes lining up in the San Francisco 49ers' locker room with other players to receive powerful anti-inflammatory injections in their buttocks shortly before kickoff. Newberry played for San Francisco from 1998-2006, including one season in which played in every game but never practiced because of pain from his injuries, according to the lawsuit.

He retired in 2009, and because of the drugs he took while playing, he now suffers from renal failure, high blood pressure and violent headaches, the lawsuit says.

"A lot of times team trainers were giving out drugs, none of them have a medical degree," Newberry told CBS San Francisco. "Some of them aren't even licensed and they're handing out drugs. They're handing out anti-inflammatory. They're handing out pain killers. They're handing out sleeping pills. They're handing out this stuff all together."

Newberry and the other former players are also seeking changes in the way the NFL distributes pain killing drugs, including Toradol, an anti-inflammatory drug that is most commonly used in emergency rooms and post-operation wards to help patients manage pain. Newberry claims Toradol was taken by "half the team" just before kick-off.

"The Toradol line was crazy," Newberry said. "The general public wouldn't believe. It's almost like a cattle call when you have 20 to 25 guys standing with their pants half down, waiting in line for a doctor who's got a hundred different syringes lined up and you walk through, they're sticking you one at a time, you walk in and out, takes all of a couple seconds, they've got the needles pre-loaded and they're shooting up half the team in some cases."

He told CBS News that in addition to the Toradol, he sometimes took two or three of the narcotic painkiller Vicodin before the game and another two or three at halftime.

"This is the same story everywhere," Newberry said. "This is an NFL culture, not a team-by-team thing."

McMahon says in the lawsuit that he suffered a broken neck and ankle during his career but rather than sitting out, he received medications and was pushed back on to the field. Team doctors and trainers never told him about the injuries, according to the lawsuit.

McMahon also became addicted to painkillers, at one point taking more than 100 Percocet pills per month, even in the offseason, the lawsuit says. Team-employed doctors and trainers illegally administered the drugs, the lawsuit alleges, because they didn't get prescriptions, keep records or explain side effects.

Van Horne played an entire season on a broken leg and wasn't told about the injury for five years, "during which time he was fed a constant diet of pills to deal with the pain," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of a landmark case that accused the league of concealing known risks from players' concussions. The NFL settled that case for $765 million. No blame was assessed and players received no punitive damages.

Among the eight named plaintiffs, six were also plaintiffs in concussion-related litigation, including McMahon and Van Horne.

The latest lawsuit seeks an injunction creating an NFL-funded testing and monitoring program to help prevent addiction and injuries and disabilities related to the use of painkillers. It also seeks unspecified financial damages.

"The NFL knew of the debilitating effects of these drugs on all of its players and callously ignored the players' long-term health in its obsession to return them to play," Silverman said. His Baltimore firm, Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin and White, also represents former National Hockey League players in a concussion-related lawsuit.

The lawsuit seeks class-action status for any former players who received narcotic painkillers, anti-inflammatories, local anesthetics, sleeping aids or other drugs without prescription, independent diagnosis, or warning about side effects or the dangers from mixing with other drugs.

"I was provided uppers, downers, painkillers, you name it while in the NFL," plaintiff J.D. Hill, who played for seven years in the 1970s, said in a statement. "I became addicted and turned to the streets after my career and was homeless. Never took a drug in my life, and I became a junkie in the NFL."

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