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Lawsuit, Drug Raid Raises Questions About NFL Painkiller Practices

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Drug enforcement agents carried out spot checks on some NFL teams yesterday. The league says, it doesn't know of any irregularities that were turned up. The DEA says, this was done in part - as part of an investigation into potentially illegal use of prescription drugs. NPR's Tom Goldman has more.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: A Drug Enforcement Agency spokesman describes the unannounced inspections on several teams as administrative actions. According to reports, they entailed bag searches and questioning of team doctors. It's to insure, says the spokesman, that NFL teams are following federal laws about transporting controlled substances across state lines. The teams targeted - all of them playing away from their home stadiums - included the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the San Francisco 49ers. In a statement, the 49ers said, the team's medical staff complied, and the team departed the stadium as scheduled. Attorney Steve Silverman says, the DEA sent a message with its inspections...

STEVE SILVERMAN: ...That the NFL is not above the law, that there are improprieties and violations of the Controlled Dangerous Substance Act going on every day in NFL locker rooms and that the federal government is not going to tolerate this any longer.

GOLDMAN: The DEA's actions yesterday were prompted by a class-action lawsuit Silverman and others filed in May on behalf of 1,300 former NFL players. The suit basically says, the NFL, through its doctors, athletic trainers and medical staff, has abused players and put profits in front of players' health concerns. For example, Silverman says, the number one drug of choice in the league today is the powerful painkiller Toradol. And Silverman says, it's been given to injured players way too much as a way to hurry them back onto the field.

SILVERMAN: We've got a number of clients who aren't even 40 years old that are on dialysis, that are suffering renal failure from these excessive shots of Toradol because the kidneys can't handle it.

GOLDMAN: Nate Jackson, who played in the NFL from 2003 to 2008, is not part of the lawsuit. He says, the issues here are complex. When you play in the league, Jackson says, you understand violence and pain are part of it. Careers, on average, are incredibly short, and everyone - from players to coaches to owners to media to medical staff - know the importance of keeping players playing.

NATE JACKSON: I don't believe there any doctors with any malicious intent trying to turn their players into addicts or trying to lead their players out to slaughter.

GOLDMAN: There's no word from the DEA about what was found in yesterday's inspections or what actions it might take next. Tom Goldman, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.