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Jonathan Papelbon admits to using controversial Toradol drug in Boston

The former Red Sox closer says he and several teammates were regularly injected with the legal, but highly controversial anti-inflammatory drug during his time in Boston. Is his admission indicative of a larger problem of drug misuse in the league?

Drew Hallowell

It's been a few days since any new names have surfaced regarding Major League Baseball and drug use, so I guess it's just about time for another story to surface.

While this latest story doesn't directly involve the use of PEDs -- as defined by MLB's Joint Drug Agreement, at least -- it does point to a clubhouse culture that is still unafraid to inject players with powerful substances, no matter the potential side effects.

On to the story ...

In an interview over the weekend, Philadelphia Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon said that he and several teammates were regularly injected with a legal, but highly controversial anti-inflammatory drug called Toradol during his time in Boston, per Gordon Edes of ESPN:

"It was kind of a word-of-mouth thing," he said. "You got in the clubhouse and said, 'Man, I feel like crap,' and somebody would say, 'Oh, you should get a Toradol shot.'

"All players talk about what gets you through a 162-game season ...

"I used it based on how I felt," he said. "The days I felt bad, I took it. Maybe once a month."

Papelbon claims to have never seen anyone else injected with the drug, or anything else, but believes that it was a regular thing in the Boston clubhouse. The right-hander, who was told to stop taking the drug upon his arrival in Philadelphia, never experienced any negative side effects from the painkiller (other than his creepy Papelbon stare, perhaps), but that does not mean the drug is safe.

The use of the drug, a nonsteroidal painkiller whose non-commercial name is keteorolac, is "widespread" in baseball, according to a Red Sox official, despite concerns in the medical community about its serious side effects. The drug is banned in several countries, and is restricted to hospital use in England, because of a propensity for giving its users serious risk of life-threatening gastrointestinal bleeding along with a slew of other terrible outcomes.

The Red Sox official also stated that the club administers the drug to pitchers prior to (some of? all of?) their starts. This may go a long way toward explaining right-hander Clay Buchholz's bout with esophagitis last year that led to his admission to an intensive care unit and the loss of three or four pints(!) of blood.

According to Papelbon, Boston is not alone in their regular use of the drug:

"But here's the thing you have to understand. There are so many organizations that do it. Not only baseball, but every sport. Football, basketball, hockey. It's not just the Red Sox."

And Papelbon is right. R.A. Dickey admitted to using the drug before roughly a dozen starts for the New York Mets while coming back from a torn plantar fascia in 2011, per The New York Times.

In the NFL, 12 former players filed a lawsuit with the league in December 2011 citing that the misuse of the drug before and during games worsened their concussions. Since the suit was filed, an NFL task force has recommended that Toradol be administered only to players on the injury report, and only at the lowest effective dose.

Once again, the drug is perfectly legal for anyone to take, so long as a doctor is the one administering the injection. However, the apparent prevalence of the drug in the Boston clubhouse -- in what seems to be a preemptive fashion rather than reacting to actual pain/injury -- gives us a glimpse into a culture that is seemingly still reliant on drugs to give guys that extra, unnatural push with little regard to adverse effects.

No, not everything should be reactionary -- see: anything in U.S. politics -- but administering a potentially dangerous drug before any swelling has occurred is serious cause for concern.

The link between steroids and elevated performance is tenuous at best, and Toradol probably isn't any different. The real concern is with Toradol -- and its cousin, cortisone -- is the potential "misuse," as the NFLers put it, of dangerous medication for the sake of a game, and weighing that over the long-term health of the person.