HOUSTON — An independent investigation of the Falcons in 2009 expressed concerns about their “excessive dispensation” of painkillers creating a “culture of dependency” among players.
Those findings were revealed in a string of emails from within the franchise submitted to a California court late last week as part of a proposed class-action lawsuit by more than 1,800 former NFL players.
The emails do not make clear what practices were changed as part of the discussion, and there is no evidence the Falcons violated league rules. The emails do suggest, however, that the Falcons’ on-site trainers were “in control” of the distribution of drugs and not the team’s doctors, and that the team spent $81,000, or nearly three times the league’s average, on prescription medications for players in 2009.
Because of that pending suit, the Falcons did not comment on the emails.
“That’s being litigated now. That’s not something we’re going discuss right now,” general manager Thomas Dimitroff, who was in the email chain from the beginning, told the Associated Press on Monday night. “When the time is right, we’ll readdress that.”
The class-action suit claims players were encouraged by the medical and training staffs of NFL teams to abuse painkillers and continue playing without regard for their long-term health. The suit also alleges that NFL trainers distributed drugs improperly, and teams failed to properly store and keep accurate records of the drugs, a violation federal laws.
The emails began in 2010 when new head trainer and current director of sports medicine and performance Marty Lauzon drew Dimitroff’s attention to the problem, which became evident after a review by SportPharm, an outside agency hired by the NFL to analyze the way teams managed painkillers and prescription drugs. Lauzon told Dimitroff that improper billing issues nearly prompted a DEA investigation. Dimitroff passed the information along to owner Arthur Blank.
“I thought it quite important for you to be aware of a rather sensitive subject and one we need to discuss before we include others on this topic matter,” Dimitroff wrote to Blank.
“Agree — we should talk about this together with Rich (McKay, the Falcons’ president),” Blank replied.
McKay then sought advice from league officials outside the Falcons, including Dr. Elliot Pellman who at the time led the NFL’s committee on brain injury and later became a league medical adviser. He asked Pellman if Mary Anne Fleming, who was then director of player benefits in the league office, recommended the Falcons replace their doctors and if she knew how the prescriptions were handled by the Falcons.
“I need to know — is this really true and does she realize the on-site trainer is really in control???” McKay wrote, then added. “I need to keep this confidential . . . ”
Lauzon noted in an email that Fleming had also seen the SportPharm review and recommended the Falcons “start clean on all levels” with a new team doctor, head trainer and even a new pharmacy account number.