Risky painkiller given to college football players

PORTLAND, Ore. - College football players were given powerful medications so they could play through the pain.

It started as an ABC News exclusive investigation and KATU News learned Thursday that the University of Oregon has given out the drug.

The investigation started after a former player filed suit against USC, saying the painkiller Toradol gave him a heart attack.

That former college player, Armond Armstead, has family ties to the Oregon Ducks football program. His younger brother, Arik, played in Thursday night's Fiesta Bowl for the Ducks in Arizona. Arik Armstead was a highly-recruited freshman U of O defensive lineman.

An exclusive ABC News investigation by reporter Brian Ross revealed the growing use of the powerful painkiller Toradol among college football programs.

"Despite the stated risk of a powerful prescription painkiller called Toradol, which manufactures say could cause heart attack or stroke, college football team doctors across the country are using this painkiller so that injured players can get on the field and play for their team and help them win," Ross said.

While several college programs admit giving Toradol to athletes, many simply didn't want to talk about it. While a few, like Oregon State University, won't use it on their athletes.

"I think where the big danger is when the medicine becomes used as a prophylactic medicine or a medicine that's trying to mask pain to help people to potentially participate in an injured state," said Dr. Doug Aukerman, OSU Senior Associate Athletic Director of Sports Medicine.

KATU News checked with local football programs.

Again, Oregon State University does not give athletes the pain killer Toradol. The University of Oregon says Toradol was given to athletes there twice in the past year. Portland State University doesn't give the painkiller to its football players. Neither does Linfield College in McMinnville.

"This is a drug that was designed for use primarily in hospitals to treat post-operative pain - not really meant to be used widespread for student athletes, but its use is now spread to professional football and other sports and has trickled down into college sports as well," said Ross.

Most of the top 25 college programs ABC News contacted during its investigation won't even talk about whether they give Toradol to players so they can play.

What is Toradol?

It's a prescription drug. You might also know its generic name - Ketorolac. It's a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory used to treat moderate to severe pain.

It has a black box warning, which is the FDA's most serious warning because it has numerous risks associated with it. It could cause a heart attack or stroke, stomach and intestinal bleeding or kidney failure.

This drug is only meant to be taken for very short periods of time: Around five days.