Risks and Rewards of Toradol

Last night, Andrea Kremer debuted a piece on HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel that details the widespread usage of Toradol in the NFL. Toradol was described as being a unique painkiller in that it is legal, non-addictive, not a narcotic (like Vicodin and Oxycontin), and not localized to a specific body region like Cortisone or Novocaine.  Kremer called the drug a “virtual shield of armor” that “masks pain from head to toe.”

This description would seem to imply that its usage is risk-free but, as it was leading Real Sports, this is of course not the case–it can lead to stomach bleeding or kidney failure. Kremer interviewed Jeremy Newberry, who made two Pro Bowls in his 11 seasons on the 49ers, Raiders, and Chargers; Newberry was a frequent Toradol user.

Newberry described the effects of the painkiller: “It’s something that will make you feel like Superman for three hours and then it wears off in a hurry and you’re hurt again.” Its use in the locker room was rampant. “I’ve seen lines of 20 or 30 of [my teammates] lining up for a shot.” Newberry teared up as he talked about being diagnosed with Stage 3 kidney failure and the implications on his life as well as those of his three children with a fourth on the way. He had never been informed of the health risks by team doctors.

If he had known about them, though, would he still have taken Toradol? The question was never addressed but the answer is somewhere between probably and definitely. Kremer interviewed Brian Urlacher, who has used Toradol, and asked if he had ever been made aware of the health risks. He had not but his new knowledge would not be a deterrent.

“Even now, knowing the risks, I would still take the Toradol shot,” Urlacher said matter-of-factly without a shroud of doubt. “We want to be on the football field as much as we can be. If we can be out there, it may stupid, it may be dumb. Call me dumb and stupid because I want to be on the football field.” We. He was certain that he was speaking for everyone.

It’s very similar to the concussion issues that the NFL faces. The players want to play. In the heat of the moment–and, in cases like Urlacher which are the rule and not the exception, off the field with full awareness of the costs and benefits–they will risk long-term bodily harm to get and stay on the field.

At this point, it’s widely acknowledged that NFL players carry their wounds with them their entire lives. The injuries to their minds and bodies sustain and persist. Current NFL players know going into individual games as well as their careers that their quality of life will be drastically impacted. They continue to soldier on. What is most fascinating, though, is that most former players look back on their careers and would do it all over again.

25 years later, SI’s Peter King surveyed the 1986 Bengals, “whose physical and psychological conditions a quarter century later range from near complete normalcy to near total disability. But no matter their current hardships, the vast majority say they have no regrets.” The piece is extraordinary in its candor.

I can’t even fathom the fulfillment that players must feel within the sidelines to justify the decades of misery that has been painstakingly detailed in King’s piece and elsewhere. But almost everything I’ve read has echoed what the ’86 Bengals told King: as painful as their daily existence is now, they would not do anything differently. Whatever physical and mental condition Urlacher is in 1-5-10-20-30-40-50 years from now, he will remain steadfast that his commitment to his Bears teammates and fans was worth it.

Players should be given full information of the risks they face when they take painkillers to play or come back into games; the Real Sports piece strongly suggests that the NFL has been systemically negligent in providing it with regards to Toradol. But, ultimately, it is up to the player to determine whether those long-term risks are worth running to get back onto the field. Knowing the cost, a vast majority players will shoulder the burden to help their team win. And when the bill comes due, they’d do it again.


3 Responses to Risks and Rewards of Toradol

  1. mweisburgh says:

    Ryan, here’s a potential problem/question.

    Let’s say that a football player takes Toradol or something else legal with full knowledge of the repercussions. Fifteen years later, he needs a liver transplant and other medical care that will cost, let’s say around a million dollars. Which he cannot pay for. Should we, as society, pick up the tab? Or at that point, do we just let him die, since he made his own bed.

    By the way, I’m not implying that the answer to the question is no. But it’s one we need to explicitly answer, and not just slough off this issue as a matter letting adults freely decide what they should do.

    My opinion, we should create a 5% fee on all revenues from professional sports which should be used for emergencies for the players, past players, and their families.

    • chacha says:

      This is a workers’ comp issue in which assumption of risk is not a defense for the employer. The comp carrier would provide the benefits/treatment (not the public) if the player can prove his injury/illness was caused by his employment.

  2. Jana Luther says:

    Any drug, prescription or over the counter, has risks. Funny, but Andrea failed to mention that Toradol, the drug described as being able to turn you into a “Superman”, is in the same drug class as Ibuprofen. Ibuprofen also has many of the same risks as Toradol, including kidney damage, GI bleeding, liver damage, etc. And it has the same benefit, pain relief.
    Any medication taken systemically by oral, IM, SQ, IV route is going to result in pain relief throughout the entire body. I’m not sure what the issue is between systemic effect vs local effect of analgesics.
    And lastly, who, especially if you’re over the age of 40, doesn’t take a couple of Ibuprofen before heading out for a hike if you have a history of an injured or arthritic knee? Is there not somewhat of a parallel here?

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