Kesler says NHL players not educated on effects of certain drugs
Ryan Kesler: "I never wanted to hurt the team, so I knew I had to play. To play, you have to take painkillers."
During his 15-season NHL career, Livonia native Ryan Kesler was one of the league’s top two-way centers for almost a decade.
But it seems that pain drugs that allowed Kesler, now 36, to get on the ice many times also took a permanent toll on his body.
On a TSN news segment called "The Problem of Pain" that aired this week, he said the lack of education about a popular anti-inflammatory medication led to chronic digestive problems.
Kesler, who won the 2010-11 Frank J. Selke Trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward, played 1,001 games for the Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks. But he has not played since March, 2019 due to chronic hip problems.
To manage the pain, he said he would frequently take Toradol, a drug not approved for long-term use.
"I never wanted to hurt the team, so I knew I had to play. To play, you have to take painkillers," Kesler said.
In 2015, Kesler said he developed colitis, a chronic disease that causes long-lasting inflammation and ulcers in the digestive tract. Doctors told him the condition was most likely triggered by the Toradol abuse.
"I had holes in my colon and ulcers, and basically my whole intestines went into spasm,” he said. “It's very unpleasant. You've gotta go to the bathroom 30-40 times a day. And when you do go to the bathroom, it's pure blood. It depletes you. It's terrible. And it's all because I wasn't made aware of what this drug could potentially do to me."
In the fall of 2019, Kesler was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel disease.
He says NHL teams have not educated their players about the risks of pain medications.
"I never knew what it could do to me. Or the side effects. I feel like, if I can talk about the dangers about it, it'll help everybody," he said.
TSN's Rick Westhead, who created "The Problem of Pain" with producer Matt Cade, said that overuse of Toradol is widespread in the NHL, with multiple agents telling him they have players "who take it before every regular-season and playoff game" to manage their pain.
"A lot of this, in terms of accountability and responsibility, comes down to team trainers and team doctors," Westhead said. "If you believe what these players are telling us, how can it be that they're being given prescription medication that you're not supposed to take more than five days in a row for a full season and not telling them what could happen if you do this?"