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Testing for Opioids Considered Likely in MLB

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Under a change to Major League Baseball’s (MLB) drug agreement, players who test positive for opioids would enter a treatment plan and not be suspended. The MLB also announced that it would stop testing minor league players for cannabis.

The MLB has been testing for performance-enhancing drugs since 2004 and for banned stimulants since 2006.  Talks to add testing for opioids began after death of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who was found to have oxycodone and fentanyl in his blood at the time of his death. The MLB and the players’ association are both in agreement that treatment rather than punishment is the best plan for the league.

“The dialogue in this has been really positive with the players association, a lot of common ground on addressing the issue,” said Commissioner Rob Manfred. “We understand that our workforce is a microcosm of society. There’s a societal problem.”

The MLB doesn’t test major league players for opioids even though they are on the banned substances list. Minor league players, however, are tested for opioids and are placed into a drug-treatment program after a first positive test and subject to suspension following a second positive test.

“We believe wholeheartedly, as we always have, that the treatment option and not discipline is the best route to go,” said Tony Clark, current executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association. “I’m pretty confident that’s where we’re going.”

The MLB and the players’ association have also discussed whether the league should loosen the restrictions around its cannabis policy as the country trends towards legalization and Canada, where the Toronto Blue Jays play, has already legalized cannabis in the whole country. Studies have shown that cannabis shows promise as an alternative to opioids and can reduce opioid abuse. Currently, only players who are in the drug-treatment program are tested for cannabis, and the MLB has never suspended a player for cannabis use.

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