Ex-players say teams gave pain pills ‘like candy’

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FILE – This Jan. 26, 1986 file photo shows Chicago Bears quarterback, Jim McMahon (9) bumping helmets with Keith Van Horne during Super Bowl XX in New Orleans. 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 complaint names eight players, including three members of the Super Bowl champion 1985 Chicago Bears: defensive lineman 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. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

FILE – This Jan. 26, 1986 file photo shows Chicago Bears quarterback, Jim McMahon (9) bumping helmets with Keith Van Horne during Super Bowl XX in New Orleans. 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 complaint names eight players, including three members of the Super Bowl champion 1985 Chicago Bears: defensive lineman 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. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell speaks at a press conference at the NFL’s spring meeting, Tuesday, May 20, 2014, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

FILE – In this Aug. 6, 2011 file photo, Richard Dent poses with a bust of himself during induction ceremonies at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. A group of retired NFL players says in a lawsuit that the league illegally supplied them with risky painkillers that numbed their injuries and led to medical complications. Attorney Steven Silverman says his firm filed the lawsuit Tuesday, May 20, 2014, in federal court in San Francisco. The eight named plaintiffs include Hall of Fame defensive end Dent and quarterback Jim McMahon.(AP Photo/Tony Dejak, File)

Attorney Steve Silverman stands in a hallway outside his office Tuesday, May 20, 2014, in Baltimore. A group of retired players accused the NFL in a lawsuit Tuesday of cynically supplying them with powerful painkillers and other drugs that kept them in the game but led to serious complications later in life. The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages on behalf of more than 500 ex-athletes, charges the NFL with putting profits ahead of players’ health. Silverman is an attorney for the players. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

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Former NFL lineman Jeremy Newberry says he often hobbled into the 49ers locker room using a walking boot and crutches, then lined up behind as many as two dozen teammates for treatment — in his case, a shot of the painkiller Toradol. Ten minutes later, he sprinted onto the field to play.

The toughness of pro football players is part of the league’s image, but a lawsuit filed Tuesday on behalf of more than 600 former players contends it was abetted by team physicians and trainers across the NFL who routinely dispensed powerful narcotics and other controlled substances on game days to mask the pain.

Although painkillers have been discussed around NFL locker rooms for decades, plaintiffs in this suit give details about which drugs they say teams persuaded them to use and how even severe injuries were covered up temporarily.

Painkillers Percodan, Percocet and Vicodin, anti-inflammatories such as Toradol, and sleep aids such as Ambien were “handed out like candy at Halloween,” according to lead attorney Steven Silverman. Sometimes, the lawsuit also charges, the drugs were given in combinations as “cocktails.”

“The stuff works,” Newberry, who played seven of his nine seasons in San Francisco before retiring in 2009, told The Associated Press in an interview. “It works like crazy. It really does.”

But only for so long.

Newberry, now 38 and one of the eight plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, says that because of the drugs he took while playing, he suffers from kidney failure, high blood pressure and violent headaches. Others — including three members of the NFL champion 1985 Chicago Bears: quarterback Jim McMahon, Hall of Fame defensive end Richard Dent and offensive lineman Keith Van Horne — reported a range of debilitating effects, from chronic muscle and bone ailments to permanent nerve and organ damage.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in Atlanta for the league’s spring meetings, said Tuesday that league attorneys had not yet studied the lawsuit.

Six of the named plaintiffs in the suit filed in federal court in San Francisco were also parties to the concussion-related class-action lawsuit less than a year ago. The NFL agreed to pay $765 million to settle that case — without acknowledging it concealed the risks of concussions from former players. A federal judge has yet to approve the settlement, expressing concern the amount is too small.

“The difference is that the concussion case claimed the NFL knew or should have known,” Silverman said. “We’re saying this was intentional, putting profits ahead of players’ health — and in violation of federal controlled substance laws, as well as state laws. You don’t order hundreds of narcotic painkillers in their names without telling them.”

Some of the players said they knew they were taking powerful drugs, but felt they would lose their jobs if they didn’t take team officials’ advice and use the substances to get back on the field quickly.

The lawsuit covers the years 1968-2008. Silverman said a number of clients reported teams had “tightened up” dispensing procedures since then, including one incident in which a player said a trainer waited until the team plane on a flight home was 10,000 feet in the air before handing over a narcotic “to avoid

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