Painkiller’s Use in Sports Sets Off Alarm Bells

The national spotlight has been focused on professional cycling with seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong finally coming clean on his use of steroids and blood boosters. But baseball isn’t far behind–some of its biggest stars are also under the microscope, not for steroid use, but for an anti-inflammatory drug called Toradol.

Athletes often refer to Toradol as a strong Advil. Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz said the powerful painkiller could be to blame for an esophageal inflammation that sidelined him for 20 games. Buchholz’s condition was so severe that he landed in intensive care.

“But here’s the thing you have to understand,” Buchholz recently told ESPN. “There are so many organizations that do it. Not only baseball, but every sport. Football, basketball, hockey. It’s not just the Red Sox.”

Toradol (ketorlac tromethamine) is typically used in hospitals to relieve moderately severe pain, usually pain that occurs after an operation or other painful procedure. According to the manufacturer, Toradol can pose risks to the kidneys and cardiovascular and gastrointestinal tracks. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency reported that nearly 100 people had fatal interactions with ketorlac in the early 1990s. The most common side effects of the drug are ulcers, bleeding and kidney issues.

Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester said the club is reviewing its policy on Toradol and that players use the drug frequently. Lester said he had taken it without side effects, but applauds the club’s thoroughness in ensuring the safety of a drug commonly used across the league. But not all teams allow its use. One Red Sox player said that while his team routinely injects Toradol into players, a club he played with previously forbid use of the drug.

Toradol isn’t a performance enhancer, but anti-inflammatories like it are responsible for keeping players in the game and comfortable afterward. The use of Toradol was at the center of a lawsuit filed in 2012 by a group of retired NFL players who said teams administered the drug before and during games, thus worsening injuries like concussions. According to the suit, players would line up in their locker rooms before games to receive injections, a process the players called a cattle call. They said no warnings were given about the drug’s side effects.

The NFL has disputed the claims.

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