Opioid Addiction in MLB

Opioid Addiction in MLB

Authored by Pin Ng PhD

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

Opioid Addiction in MLB

In June 1970, Major League Baseball pitcher Jim Bouton had his autobiographical account of his 1969 season published1https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ball_Four. The book immediately made Bouton a celebrity in the American media and a hated individual in baseball circles. Bouton opened up the world of baseball to the public and told of its secret society in which alcohol and amphetamines were an everyday part of the game.

Now, a half century on, Major League Baseball has a new epidemic, one it doesn’t want fans to know about. Opioids have become a major issue for baseball clubs and players as the crisis of addiction spreads across the United States. In December 2019, it was announced that Major League Baseball would begin testing players for opioids with players that test positive sent to rehab rather than punished.2https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/12/sports/baseball/mlb-drug-policy-opioids.html

In July 2019, Los Angeles Angles pitcher Tyler Skaggs, just 27-years-old, overdosed on opioids. His death sent shockwaves through baseball. With the opioid epidemic in the US at record highs, Major League Baseball had a potential firestorm of addiction problems on their hands before agreeing to mandatory tests with the MLB Players’ Union.

America’s No. 1 silent killer, fentanyl, was found in Skaggs’ system amongst other opioid painkillers OxyContin and Vicodin. Skaggs had undergone arm surgery just five years prior to his death. Like other big-league players to undergo the procedure and other operations to keep their careers going, Skaggs had turned to prescription opioids to keep him playing at his best.

In the wake of Skaggs’ death, Major League Baseball has become more compassionate toward its players. Once a league ready to punish offenders of drug policies, the league aims to help those in need of help3http://www.mlb.com/pa/pdf/jda.pdf. Marajuana for example has been removed from the list of banned substances and is treated as per alcohol protocol by the governing body. However, testing has been ramped up for Opioids although players who test positive are referred to a treatment board of medical professionals who will prescribe a treatment plan which may involve recommended inpatient or outpatient rehab.

Treating Opioid Addiction in MLB

There is no dedicated resource for Opioid Addiction in MLB or any other Professional Sport. The United States has no dedicated recovery unit as exists in the United Kingdom, where ex-professional soccer player Tony Adams set up a dedicated charity to help treat addiction in the Premier League called Sporting Chance.

The very nature of the sport of baseball puts stress and strains in on the body resulting in pain on a daily basis for many of its players. Major League Baseball teams play 162 games a season before the playoffs begin and after spring training ends. Professional baseball is an everyday job and turning to opioids for pain relief is a common occurrence and very serious problem. The stress many players experience on a daily basis of potentially losing their job if they cannot perform turns many to drug misuse.

Skaggs debuted in Major League Baseball in 2012 and each spring training was a fight to stay on a big-league roster. Skaggs can be forgiven for turning to opioids to lessen the pain he felt to continue on with his career out of a desire to hold onto his job.

The deceased pitcher’s tale isn’t anything out of the ordinary as there are other big-league players in the same boat seeking to stave off pain and retirement to have one more season in the sun. Skaggs was labeled as an addict who overdosed. However, the ex-Angels pitcher was just like many of his fellow big-leaguers, a player in pain given opioids to find relief.

The opioid crisis in Major League Baseball seems to run deep with many team executives turning a blind eye to it. Now, Major League Baseball aims to address the problem with mandatory tests and treatment, which is to be applauded, if a little late.

References for Opioid Addiction in MLB

1. Manchikanti L, Singh A. Therapeutic opioids: a ten-year perspective on the complexities and complications of the escalating use, abuse, and nonmedical use of opioids. Pain Physician. 2008;11(2 suppl):S63–S88 [PubMed] []

2. Cicero TJ, Ellis MS, Harney J. Shifting patterns of prescription opioid and heroin misuse in the United States. N Engl J Med. 2015;373(18):1789–1790 [PubMed] []

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  Opioid Addiction in MLB
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Opioid Addiction in MLB
In the wake of Tyler Skaggs’ death, Major League Baseball has become more compassionate toward its players. Once a league ready to punish offenders of drug abuse policies, the league aims to help those in need of help. Marijuana for example has been removed from the list of banned substances and is treated as per alcohol protocol by the governing body.
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