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Calvin Johnson underscores how easy it was to get painkillers

Dallas Cowboys v Detroit Lions

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 27: Orlando Scandrick #32 of the Dallas Cowboys brings down Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions at Ford Field on October 27, 2013 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

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Retired receiver Calvin Johnson’s revealing interview with ESPN’s E:60 touches on a subject that the league currently would prefer to be concealing: Painkiller use in the NFL.

Johnson’s remarks to Michael Smith of ESPN underscore the fact that, not too long ago, it was very easy -- too easy -- for players to get their hands on potent narcotics.

“I guess my first half of my career before they really, you know, before they started looking over the whole industry, or the whole NFL, the doctors, the team doctors and trainers, they were giving them out like candy, you know?” Johnson said, via the Washington Post.

“If you were hurting, then you could get them,” Johnson said. “It was nothing. I mean, if you needed Vicodin, call out, ‘My ankle hurt,’ you know. ‘I need, I need it. I can’t, I can’t play without it,’ or something like that. It was simple. That’s how easy it was to get them. So if you were dependent on them, they were readily available.”

The good news is that the ease with which players could get Toradol apparently changed over the second half of Johnson’s career, possibly after a January 2012 report from Andrea Kremer of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel exposed the prevalence, and dangers, of Toradol -- a “magic potion” that “masks pain from head to toe.” According to former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, players weren’t informed of potential side effects like gastrointestinal bleeding and kidney problems. (Perhaps Kremer, who was hired by NFL Media later that year, possibly was referring to items like the Toradol story when contrasting NFL Network with Real Sports in a recent interview with Jeff Pearlman.)

By November 2012, the NFL placed significant restrictions on the availability of Toradol. In December 2012, the NFL Players Association filed a grievance over a waiver teams began asking players to sign, which among other things referred them to Wikipedia for information about the drug.

The good news is that, at some point midway through Johnson’s career, which began in 2007 and ended in 2015, it became no longer quite so easy to get painkillers. The bad news for the NFL is that, as to the men who played before the sea change, the potential damage had been done -- and a significant award for damages could be coming in the class-action lawsuit claiming that teams deliberately gave painkillers to players without explaining the risks, along with an express or implied threat that, if they don’t take the drugs to allow them to play, they won’t have jobs.