NFL Sober Coach: Painkillers and The NFL



A retired NFL offensive lineman who we will call Kyle remembers the plane rides home when he first came into the NFL, those hours spent folding his 6-foot-5 frame into an airline seat after a Sunday afternoon full of violent collisions with other 300-pound men. An offensive lineman for eight years with the Saints, Rams and Chiefs who retired after the 2007 season, Turley said it was commonplace to find comfort in the form of two Miller Lites. But the real relief, Turley said, would come when members of the Saints’ medical staff routinely handed out the prescription painkiller Vicodin on the flights home. The trainers and the doctors used to go down the aisle and say, ‘Who needs what?”  Kyle said that if you had something hurting and needed a painkiller to take the edge off so you could sleep that night, they made sure you had it.
A scientific study conducted by researchers at Washington University in St. Louis found that retired NFL players misuse opioid pain medications at a rate of more than four times that of the general population. The study, co-funded by ESPN and the National Institute on Drug Abuse, provides new evidence to suggest the roots of that misuse can be traced to the misuse of painkillers during players’ NFL careers. The research findings were published Jan. 28 in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, a peer-reviewed, scientific journal. When asked about their prescription painkiller use while playing in the NFL, 52 percent of the retired players surveyed said they used prescription pain medication. Of those users, 71 percent admitted misusing the drugs during their playing days and, of that same group, 63 percent said they obtained the pills from a non-medical source: a teammate, coach, trainer, family member, dealer or the Internet. “It tells me that there has to be more evaluation, more monitoring,” said Linda Cottler, a professor of epidemiology in Washington University’s Department of Psychiatry, who directed the research. “That’s a problem, I think, that only 37 percent got [prescription pain medications] exclusively from a doctor.”  Kyle, who now leads a country and rock-infused band, said pain medication was new to him when he arrived in the NFL.  “I never took a Vicodin in college, ever,” he said. “I didn’t even know what Vicodin was until I got to the NFL.”
Under pressure to perform on Sundays, Turley said, players routinely numb their NFL injuries with prescription painkillers and risk long-term debilitating injuries.
“I know guys that have bought thousands of pills,” Turley said. “Tons of guys would take Vicodin before a game.” Kyle said one physician outside the NFL’s network of doctors — he would not identify the individual by name — once offered to sell him a bag of 10,000 Vicodin. The going rate, Turley recalled, was $3 per pill. He said he didn’t make the purchase. “Everybody has a guy,” Turley said.
The NFL has had a few high-profile cases involving painkillers. In April 2008, New England Patriots offensive tackle Nick Kaczur was pulled over for speeding in Whitestown, N.Y., while driving back to his home in Massachusetts.  The officer noted in a police report that Kaczur appeared “extremely nervous.” The officer said he found a “Ziploc baggie” in the center console, containing four pills, later discovered to be the prescription painkiller Percocet. When he continued searching  the officer found another “Ziploc baggie” in Kaczur’s sweatshirt pocket containing 202 OxyContin pills, according to the report. Kaczur was cited for criminal possession of a controlled substance and speeding. According to court documents, Kaczur told police he’d obtained the pills from a man named “Danny,” whom he met at a Boston-area bar months earlier. At that time, Kaczur was coming off a career year. He’d started 15 games at right tackle the previous season and was part of a Patriots offensive line that allowed just 21 sacks, the fewest for the franchise in 30 years. Faced with an embarrassing criminal case involving illegally obtained prescription painkillers, Kaczur cut a deal, offering to wear a recording device to help investigators from the Drug Enforcement Administration arrest his dealer, “Danny,” in exchange for a lighter penalty. “Danny” was Daniel Ekasala. According to a DEA report, Kaczur met Ekasala in November 2007. For nearly six months, according to court documents, Kaczur purchased “approximately one hundred 80mg OxyContin pills every three or four days from [Ekasala].” In a sentencing memorandum he filed as part of the federal court case, Ekasala’s Boston-based attorney, Bernard Grossberg, wrote: “The Confidential Source [Kaczur] befriended the defendant [Ekasala] and implored him to furnish Oxycodone with the explanation that it was widely used in the NFL and that players, especially interior linemen, needed the painkillers in order to endure the injuries they suffered and in order to continue to play.” Kaczur, who finished this past NFL season on injured reserve due to a back injury, declined to comment to ESPN, as did the Patriots. Ekasala, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 42 months in prison, declined to comment to ESPN for this report when reached at the Federal Correctional Institution in Fort Dix, N.J.
In March 2009, former Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Sam Rayburn sent two men into separate pharmacies in his hometown of Chickasha, Okla., with prescriptions Rayburn had stolen from a doctor’s office and forged. When a suspicious pharmacist called police, Rayburn was arrested on two counts of attempting to obtain a controlled substance by forgery or fraud. He faced 20 years in prison if convicted. Rayburn, who pleaded guilty, spoke in detail to “Outside the Lines” about his painkiller addiction, which he said stemmed from NFL-related injuries and at its peak involved consuming more than 100 Percocet pills a day. He avoided prison time by going to court-ordered drug counseling and by submitting to 18 months of drug tests. “I think if I would have given it another two or three months, it probably would have killed me,” Rayburn said of his addiction. “I don’t have any doubts whatsoever that it would have turned into a death situation, because I didn’t see any way of slowing down.”
Last May, former San Diego Chargers safety Kevin Ellison was arrested by Redondo Beach, Calif., police and charged with one count of possession of a controlled substance. Police say Ellison was found in his car in the middle of the afternoon with 100 Vicodin, which he allegedly obtained without a prescription. He was released on a $10,000 bond and has since pleaded not guilty. His case is pending. Ellison and his agent, Jerome Stanley, both declined to comment to ESPN, but Stanley did tell The San Diego Union-Tribune that Ellison “thought it was a good idea to get enough pain killers to last the season. They were for him to use because of his knee surgery.”  In a prepared statement, the Chargers said no one on the team’s medical staff ever provided Vicodin to Ellison.
So as you can see, it is story after story after story and arrest after arrest. The names change but the story and the path remain extremely familiar. What needs to be done in the NFL to fix this epidemic? Some NFL players are asking for the league to stop punishing players for using marijuana for pain. Is this a solution? We here at Top Recovery Coaches and Life Coaching for Drug and Alcohol Addiction would love to hear what you think! Also, if you know of anyone who is struggling with any addiction call us at 1-800-706-0318 for help.