Recently, Major League Baseball (MLB) announced that they will now include opioids, fentanyl, cocaine, and synthetic THC as part of their regular random drug test for PEDs, and they are now excluding marijuana. As a prevention advocate and an avid sports fan (go Blues and Cards!), these changes are promising and show that society’s perception of substance dependence is changing. Under the previous policy, the league only tested for “drugs of abuse” if there was “reasonable cause.” Now players who test positive for the drugs listed above will first be evaluated, and then, if necessary, placed in a personalized treatment program. Players will only be disciplined if they fail to comply with the evaluation or the treatment program. This means players won’t be fined or miss games without pay because they are struggling with a substance use disorder. Motivation for these changes started with the tragic death of Angels’ pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who overdosed on oxycodone, fentanyl, and alcohol.
I think it’s crucial that other leagues note the changes the MLB made. It’s often easy for us to see professional athletes differently and hold them to much higher standards than we do ourselves, but the bottom line is that even though these athletes are very talented, and make a lot of money, they experience the same problems we do. Even though they are somewhat superhuman, and we idolize them by wearing their names on our backs, they are still HUMAN. This new policy change will help players that are struggling with substance use disorders get the treatment they need, and prevent unintended overdose deaths. It might even encourage more players who are battling addiction to come forward and receive help.
I applaud the MLB for taking a step in the right direction and putting player safety above all else. Other major professional sports leagues have similar policies in regards to “drugs of abuse,” and none of them are perfect. But these policies and leagues can continue to change for the better, and I hope the MLB is sparking a movement that could spread across all professional sports and save lives.