Shocker: Study Shows Retired NFL Players Abuse Painkillers More Than The Rest of Us



Here's some news that will shock you: Retired NFL players, who spent the best years of their lives running and throwing and getting tackled and getting hurt, take more painkillers than the rest of us. Since they were NFL players, they have better access to the good ones, like Vicodin. Lucky bastards.

This news is brought to you by a team of Washington University researchers who interviewed 644 former NFL players who retired between 1979 and 2006 about their overall health, their concussions and their painkiller prescriptions.

In another bit of shocking news, 71 percent admitted they did not always strictly follow the instructions from their doctors about how much to take and how often. Of those, 63 percent confessed to sometimes getting their drugs from teammates instead of a doctor. Fifteen percent continue to avoid asking doctors for prescriptions, even now when their playing days are over.

"The rate of severe pain is staggering," Linda B. Cottler, who led the study, said in a press release. "Among the men who currently use prescription opioids -- whether misused or not -- 75 percent said they had severe pain, and about 70 percent reported moderate-to-severe physical impairment."

Nearly half the players had officially been diagnosed with concussions sometime during their careers, but more than 80 percent suspected they'd had concussions that went undiagnosed because they were afraid that if they saw a doctor, they'd be benched. (Some estimated they'd been concussed 200 times.) Hence the habit of cadging pills from teammates.

"I know guys that have bought thousands of pills," former Rams offensive lineman (and current musician) Kyle Turley said in a statement to ESPN. "Tons of guys would take Vicodin before a game."

One player said that, at one point, he'd taken 1,000 Vicodin pills a month. Another said he'd spent $1,000 a week on painkillers and took 100 pills a day. According to the study, former players who abused painkillers were also likely to abuse alcohol.

The study found that offensive linemen, both active and retired, were twice as likely to abuse pain meds as other players. "In addition," Cottler added, "this group tends to be overweight and have cardiovascular problems, so they represent a group of former players whose health probably should be monitored closely."

She continued: "These are elite athletes who were in great physical condition when their playing careers began. At the start of their careers, 88 percent of these men said they were in excellent health. By the time they retired, that number had fallen to 18 percent, primarily due to injuries. And after retirement, their health continued to decline. Only 13 percent reported that they currently are in excellent health."

The study is published in the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence. You can also find out more by watching Outside the Lines on ESPN this Sunday morning. (ESPN, by the way, helped fund the study.)

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