Papelbon Injected with Controversial Drug in Boston
FORT MYERS, Fla. --Philadelphia Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon, who was part of the Boston Red Sox team from 2005-11, said Saturday that he and numerous other Red Sox players were regularly injected with Toradol, a legal anti-inflammatory drug whose use has become increasingly controversial in sports.
Toradol is the nonsteroidal drug that Red Sox pitcher Clay Buchholz acknowledged last season might have contributed to the esophagitis that sidelined him for 20 games. Buchholz was hospitalized in intensive care and lost three or four pints of blood while dealing with the condition, which is a known side effect of the painkiller.
Papelbon said that when he was administered a physical by the Philadelphia Phillies prior to signing as a free agent after the 2011 season, doctors asked him if he used Toradol. When he answered in the affirmative, he was told that he would have to stop.
"[Toradol] made me feel better. You had to get it about 30 minutes before a game, and it made me feel pretty damn good. It only lasted about four hours maximum.
”-- Jonathan Papelbon
"They told me, 'We don't do that here.' That kind of surprised me," Papelbon said Saturday, speaking by phone from Phillies camp in Clearwater, Fla. "I haven't had a single Toradol shot since.
"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."
A Red Sox official, speaking on background Saturday, described Toradol as a legal drug with clear pain-management benefits, and acknowledged its widespread use in baseball, including by Red Sox pitchers before their starts. But he added that the club is in the midst of reviewing its policy to ensure players' safety.
"A club's policy is related to how it's using Toradol, not whether it would use it," he said.
The official said the club was in full compliance last year with the legal stipulation that only a doctor inject the medication.
Papelbon said he couldn't recall who introduced him to Toradol, and wasn't sure when he first began receiving injections, but believes it was in 2007, when he was the closer on the team that won the World Series title.
"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."
Papelbon said he never saw another player get injected, but he believes many players were using Toradol.
Papelbon said he was never told of any potential side effects of using Toradol, but did not personally experience any adverse reactions.
"I used it based on how I felt," he said. "The days I felt bad, I took it. Maybe once a month.
"It made me feel better. You had to get it about 30 minutes before a game, and it made me feel pretty damn good. It only lasted about four hours maximum. But I never saw anyone else get injected -- that's the God's honest truth."
The New York Times reported last April that according to a member of the medical staff of a Major League Baseball team, the use of Toradol in baseball started about a decade ago and quickly soared in popularity. R.A. Dickey, who won the National League's Cy Young Award in 2012, told the Times he was injected about a dozen times with it in 2011 to help recover from a torn plantar fascia in his right foot.
But the drug, though legal in MLB and other sports, has raised concerns among medical experts about the effects of longtime use. In December 2011, a lawsuit was filed by a dozen retired National Football League players who said the league and its teams repeatedly and indiscriminately administered the drug before and during games, thus worsening injuries like concussions.
"You got in the clubhouse and said, 'Man, I feel like crap,' and somebody would say, 'Oh, you should get a Toradol shot.'
”-- Jonathan Papelbon
In November, an article on the Digestive Health Institute website noted that because of the side effect of bleeding, England restricts the use of Toradol to hospitals, and other countries have banned the drug entirely.
The Food and Drug Administration, the article said, requested a boxed warning on Toradol to include the risk of life-threatening gastrointestinal bleeding. The warning states: "Increased risk of serious GI adverse events including bleeding, ulcer, and stomach or intestine perforation, which can be fatal; may occur at any time during use and without warning signs."
Last September, an NFL physician society task force provided a series of recommendations regarding the use of Toradol, including that it only should be administered by a team physician, and it should be limited to use on players listed on the team's injury report. It also said it should be given in the lowest effective dose and not be used for more than five days.
Papelbon said Saturday that he never heard a member of the team's medical staff offer a player performance-enhancing drugs.
"No, no, no -- never," Papelbon said when asked if he was aware of any member of the Red Sox medical staff suggesting the use of PEDs. "I think that would be pretty asinine for any team doctor or trainer to say that, don't you?"
Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling said Thursday that someone in the organization told him performance-enhancing drugs were an option for him as he tried to work his way back from a shoulder injury in 2008. Investigations conducted by both the Red Sox and MLB found that claim to be "completely baseless," according to two baseball sources with direct knowledge of the investigations.
Papelbon said he is happy in Philadelphia and doesn't miss Toradol.
"They use safer anti-inflammatories here, have other ways to keep you strong," he said.
Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com
Joe McDonald of ESPNBoston.com contributed to this report.