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Destigmatizing Addiction in Sports Franchises

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When Major League Baseball players arrived in Florida and Arizona for the start of spring training this week, they entered their first season under a new set of drug testing rules.  

The new agreement, announced late last year, came after the July 2019 death of 27 year-old Tyler Skaggs, a starting pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels. At the time of death, Skaggs had fentanyl and oxycodone in his system. 

Prior to this season, players were not tested for “drugs of abuse” unless there was probable cause. Previous drug screenings were meant primarily to identify whether a player was using a performance enhancing substance.

What will players be tested for?

Although the new drug testing model will test players for cocaine, opioids and marijuana, the rules are more lenient. Players who test positive for marijuana will no longer face suspensions or fines up to $35,000, but will receive mandatory assessments and voluntary treatment.

“It is our collective hope that this agreement will help raise public awareness on the risks and dangers of opioid medications and contribute positively to a national conversation about this important topic,” MLB Deputy Commissioner Dan Halem said in a statement.

Indeed, more awareness needs to be brought to the issue of Substance Use Disorder, which the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) estimates impacts close to 20 million Americans.

Destigmatize Addiction

Imagine if major sports leagues such as MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL had even one game per season dedicated to raising awareness of the extent of the opioid crisis. Imagine if more players stood up, unafraid of being stigmatized, and shared stories of overcoming substance abuse whether as active players or after retirement. 

It isn’t that the new agreement hasn’t made a few good steps — punitive measures are rarely impactful, while voluntary treatment is. But unless MLB and other sports leagues explicitly state how much addiction impacts our nation, the issue is seen as an anomaly, which it is not. 

It is estimated that annually 88,000 and 70,000 people die each year from Alcohol Use Disorder and Substance Use Disorders, respectively. 

The problem is not that MLB players aren’t immune to the opioid crisis.The problem is that almost everyone is impacted by it, yet the stigma surrounding it keeps it a taboo subject. 

All sports leagues and team franchises need to step up and do their part to not only protect their own players, but also their loyal fans. 

There is help

If you want to stop using drugs or drinking alcohol, but are having trouble doing so, there is help. 

At Amatus Recovery Centers across the country, we offer the full continuum of addiction related care. From medical detox to intensive outpatient programs and long term outpatient aftercare services, our treatment centers can help you at the level of your needs.

To find out which level of care is best for you, contact an admissions specialist at 833-216-3079.