Opinion: Vicodin Scandal Proves Need for League-Wide Reform

Amidst the flurry of allegations and accusations surrounding the recent Saints vicodin scandal, there is one glaring truth that cannot be questioned or ignored: drug policy within the NFL needs to be reformed. 

Regardless of whether the claims of drug theft and abuse in Geoff Santini's pending civil lawsuit against the Saints organization are accurate or just an extortion plot carried out by an opportunistic former employee, the subsequent information that has come to the surface in the aftermath or these accusations paint a picture of a complacent league that has allowed a laissez-fair drug culture to run rampant for years.

Former defensive end Burt Grossman sums it all up in an article he recently wrote for the National Football Post...

Vicodin is easier to get in the NFL than herpes. The NFL runs on pain medication, from the locker room to the coaches' offices.     

How else can we assume this? Well, the original lawsuit filed by the former FBI veteran Santini boldly claims that the Saints were playing fast and loose with pain pills...

...the 100 count vicodin bottles had been obtained for the Saints via prescription issued by Dr. Amoss in the name of the Saints, not an individual, and filled at Walgreens. The issuance of prescriptions not in the name of an individual and the maintenance and operation of a dispensing clinic or drug cabinet for narcotics without the proper license or permit are violation of federal and state law.  

Whether or not these actions are illegal may now be up to a court to decide but for years, it would seem that this was a somewhat standard practice within the NFL, though not necessarily shared by all teams. Last week, an anonymous NFL trainer shed some light on this practice in an article in the NY Daily News...

"In the old days, it is what every club used to do. Some trainers at professional and college level got into hot water over it. There are a lot newer ways to do it. A lot of trainers feel like me. I call the doctor. He calls the prescription in."

"The Saints apparently keep stock on hand. I don't," the trainer told the Daily News on Monday. "I have a pharmacy deliver two or three times a day as needed. Everything is individually wrapped with a player's name on it. I don't keep anything in our safe. I don't keep medications now.

"I get it delivered and hand it out for the people that it is for. Then you don't have these kind of issues. When you have a big bulk of medications is when you have pills missing. That's what we are all trying to avoid."

While some teams may be smart or forward-thinking enough to abandon an outdated and somewhat dangerous policy, it's also a system that seems to be acknowledged by the league as acceptable. Why else would they require record keeping for pills?

"As long as the doctor writes the prescription, you can keep it on hand as bulk medication,"...

The trainer said within five days of receiving the medication it had to be logged with the NFL office. Four times a year, he said, it has to be reconciled in a software program the league provides.

No doubt, the nature of the sport we love is a rough one that causes severe physical pain for most of the players that put themselves on the line every day for our entertainment. And it may even take a toll on those responsible for teaching and guiding those players, especially when there may be deep-seeded emotional issues at play for a coach who may just be, as Grossman puts it... 

trying to get his candy to help numb the guilt he has for making a game his priority at the expense of his family.    

Does this mean Joe Vitt should have been stealing medication on his own without recording it? Absolutely not. Should Sean Payton have been receiving medication for a condition he didn't possess. Negative. But if they were, can you blame them when the system and everything around them tells them it's okay? It would certainly be difficult. 

It's a shame that a problem like this has pervaded the beloved NFL for years and even more of a shame that it's only now coming to the forefront of fan consciousness. It's too late for Joe Vitt, Sean Payton and the entire Saints organization to undo any wrongs they may have committed but it hardly seems fair for them to become the poster boys for something the NFL seems to condone - or at least accept - because as Grossman puts it...

So did anything go on in the Saints locker room that's a big shock to anyone? No, but...there will be a fall guy

The Saints and their staff may soon be put on trial but it shouldn't stop there. It's time to put the system on trial. 

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