Ex-USC Player: Painkiller Injections Caused Heart Attack

Toradol label warns of risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, stroke, heart attack.
6:37 | 01/03/13

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Transcript for Ex-USC Player: Painkiller Injections Caused Heart Attack
And it is the dream of countless american families. A knock on the door from a big-time college football scout and a spot on a team that fills coliseums on saturday. But tonight comes a revelation from a former star about the pain and pressure that exists inside the nation's football factories and the injectable risks some young men take in order to stay on the field. Abc news's chief investigative correspondent brian ross brings us this "nightline investigates." Reporter: Game day at usc in logeles. Part of the huge college sports industry. With lucrative tv contracts, millionaire coaches and avid fans all dependent on their star players giving everything on the field, even when hurt. There's really no other option because I want to play, they wanted me to play, they needed me to play. Reporter: But now abc news has found that behind the scenes of that drive to win at usc and other major colleges, in tucked away training rooms underneath the stadium is the closely held secret of team doctors using powerful prescription painkillers to get student athletes on the field, despite painful injuries. No discussion. Just go in. Give me th shot, I'll be on my way. Reporter: It's clearly not something the ncaa want to talk about. When we went to the usc stadium to get answers, we were escorted off the premises. You guys are obviously making them uncomfortable. Reporter: The questions about the use of painkillers arise now as a former usc starting player is coming forward. On third and 7. Reporter: Number 94, defensive lineman armen armistead, he says, to help lift the veil of secrecy. Talking for the first time on "nightline," armistead, a picture of health with no family history of heart problems, says the painkiller shots he got over the season as a usc player led to a heart attack he suffered at the age of 20. I thought, you know, can't be me. This doesn't happen to kids like me. Reporter: But you're in great shape. Yeah. Reporter: And you had a heart attack? Yeah. I had a heart attack. Reporter: Now with the backing of his parents christa and gus, who once thought of themselves as part of the usc family, armistead is suing the school and the team doctor, accusing them of putting football ahead of his health. He was a racehorse, a prize racehorse that, you know, needed to be on that field no matter what.D whether that was a risk to him or not. Reporter: In the lawsuit, armistead alleges the doctor and the school ignored the risk from the painkiller being used, a generic version treated for post operative patients in hospitals. The manufacturers warn it should only be used short-term and that potential side effects include an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, which can be fatal. As a mom, that was an atrocity. Because how many other kids are going to take these shots to get on that field not knowing this could kill you? Reporter: Armen armistead says the shots allowed him to play in key big gayes despite first ankle and then later shoulder pain. Could you have gone on the field for the notre dame and ucla games without the shots? No. The pain was -- at this point, the pain was very bad. Reporter: But the shots changed everything. And how did it make you feel? I felt super human. You can't feel any pain. Made me feel amazing. Reporter: Armistead says it was in the training room, known as the shot room, that he and many other usc players got the shot, administered both before the game and again at halftime. But armistead says he was never told the name of drug, nor the possible risk of heart attack. No. Reporter: At no point. No point. Reporter: Medical records show most of armistead's painkiller injections were administered by usc team doctor james taboney, a highly regarded medical sports physician and a big part of the usc program. But still under an ethical requirement to reveal the risks, according to professor arthur kaplan of new york university. Even if you were the team physician, you still have to follow the standard of care and inform consent. You better be disclosing all risk. Reporter: Brian ross from abc news. Outside his office, the doctor said he could not talk about the allegations in armistead's lawsuit. They say you never told him about the side effects. I can't on that, because it's a lawsuit and stuff. Reporter: Do you feel it's appropriate to use -- these are young, healthy people. We still use it. Reporter: When we finally caught up with the usc coach lane kiffin, he told us he had no idea when or if it was used on his players or of its risks. Well, if that was the case, i did not know that until you just told me that. If that is accurate information, I would want to know that. As I said later, I'm not very educated in this field. Reporter: Do you think you might be now? You educated me. Thank you. Reporter: This seems to be a collective ignorance about the painkillers used in college football. The governing body, the ncaa, told us it does not regulate nor even keep track of the use of toridol and other painkillers on college athletes. If we keep track of what happens to horses in horseracing, don't we owe it to the athletes to keep track of what's going on in college sports? Reporter: Of the top 25 college football programs contacted by abc news, 16 of them refused to say whether they use toridol. Only four including usc admitted they did. Armen armistead says he is now fully recovered, and to prove that to nfl scouts, he played in the canadian football league where his team, toronto, won that country's version of the super bowl, and he was named to the all-star team as a rookie, all done without any toridol, a drug armistead says he would like now to see banned. If you can't play through the pain, maybe you sho just sit out and rest and let your body heal. Reporter: In our investigation, six of top college football programs told us they do not use toridol, including oklahoma and nebraska, which said they stopped using the painkiller last season following growing concerns about the risks, which by the way, bill, in addition to heart attacks, also include internal bleeding and kidney failure.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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