When we started the National Pain Report, it was with the idea of covering the issue of chronic pain. The stories we have covered and commented upon have shined a light on many topics, including the growing use of medical marijuana to relieve pain.
So maybe it’s fitting that on Thanksgiving, we find ourselves looking at the National Football League — that most American of institutions – and how it deals with marijuana use by its players.
There are three games on Thanksgiving — all very important ones and all being played by men who played in a football game just 4 days earlier. That prompted San Jose Mercury News columnist Mark Purdy to write a piece that we highly recommend reading to give some insight about how these elite athletes repair themselves to do battle for us each week.
Purdy’s point is that four days isn’t enough.
The part about how players use painkillers in order to be able to do battle seems especially relevant to our audience.
We also know that a couple of weeks ago, federal drug enforcement agents showed up unannounced, as the AP put it, to check on three NFL teams’ medical staffs. The reason? Many former players claim that the teams mishandle prescription drugs (aka narcotic painkillers. We’re pretty sure they aren’t handing out Lipitor).
While there were no arrests, the San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Seahawks all received a visit from the DEA. And the story is that these “visits” may continue.
“DEA agents are currently interviewing NFL team doctors in several locations as part of an ongoing investigation into potential violations of the (Controlled Substances Act),”a DEA spokesman said.
And in case you are thinking this is something new — well it isn’t.
NFL Hall of Fame Quarterback Fran Tarkenton was quoted recently saying this problem has been going on since his playing days in the 1960s and 1970s, and that the league ought to do something about it. (Here’s the story on Tarkenton).
The NFL is unbelievably influential (albeit surprisingly and brutally tone deaf on the issue of domestic abuse) and don’t think for a minute that if the league wanted to start a discussion about the use or abuse of pain medication-that we wouldn’t all listen.
They have been nibbling around the edges a little bit, especially on the issue of marijuana. The NFL and the players union are said to be close to an agreement that will make the use of marijuana less of a “crime” for the players.
According to the Atlantic Monthly, under the proposed new rules players will still be screened and punished for using marijuana, which would remain a designated “substance of abuse” akin to cocaine. However, pot-induced suspensions and banishments will require a higher number of failed tests than other substances.
The threshold for a positive marijuana test — how much of the drug needs to be in a player’s urine to trigger a red flag — will also more than double, though remain lower than thresholds used by Major League Baseball and the World Anti-Doping Association.
What we don’t understand is why the NFL just doesn’t go all the way, and remove any punishment tied to the use of marijuana. Marijuana is on the fast track toward becoming legal nationwide. It already is in Colorado and Washington (homes of last year’s Super Bowl participants). Voters in Alaska and Oregon just approved similar measures this month and other states — including California — are expected to follow suit in 2016.
Why should the NFL get ahead of this and go all the way and just say it’s okay for the players to smoke marijuana?
If for no other reason than just to change the subject.
Because when the DEA starts sniffing around your locker rooms because of pain medication abuse and you continue to fumble on the issue of domestic violence, you can use a win.