More NFL players testing positive for amphetamines

More NFL players are testing positive for amphetamines, a class
of substances that includes the ADHD drug Adderall.

Since the start of last season, more than 10 players suspended
for failing drug tests have publicly blamed it on taking the
stimulant. And while the league doesn’t identify the substance when
a player is penalized, senior vice president Adolpho Birch
acknowledges that the number of positives for amphetamines has
increased.

Because the type of drug isn’t disclosed under the NFL’s
agreement with the union, nothing prevents a player from claiming
he took Adderall when, in fact, he tested positive for a steroid or
another stimulant. The tests don’t differentiate between Adderall
and other amphetamines, Birch said, but he does believe Adderall
abuse is on the rise in the league.

With many college students using the drug without a prescription
to study deep into the night, he said, players come into the NFL
accustomed to the idea of popping the pill for a boost.

”It’s not a secret that it’s a societal trend,” Birch, who
oversees law and labor policy for the league, said Wednesday. ”I
think we’re starting to see some of the effects of that
trend.”

Players diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,
or ADHD, can apply for a therapeutic use exemption that permits
them to take Adderall. An independent administrator reviews their
medical history and diagnostic tests to approve or reject the
application.

Several players who have tested positive said they had a
prescription for Adderall but not an exemption. New York Giants
rookie safety Will Hill said in October before starting his
four-game suspension that he didn’t know when he received a
prescription that Adderall was on the league’s list of banned
substances.

He appealed the suspension and lost.

”I accept full responsibility for this situation, and it won’t
happen again,” Hill said.

Dr. Steven Pliszka, a psychiatry professor at the University of
Texas Health Science Center, said about 4 percent of the general
population has ADHD. The number could be even higher among
professional athletes, he said, because some traits of the disorder
may actually help them in sports.

But Birch said the percentage of NFL players with exemptions
was, in fact, lower than the expected number for the general
population. That’s a significant difference from Major League
Baseball, where more than 100 players have been granted exemptions
in recent seasons. That works out to close to 9 percent of all the
players on 40-man rosters. The percentage of players being treated
for the condition is roughly 10 percent.

Dr. Pliszka is skeptical that people can develop ADHD as adults.
To prove a diagnosis, he said, a player should be able to document
he had trouble concentrating back in school.

Adderall is prescribed to help increase focus and reduce
impulsivity in people with ADHD. For athletes, its benefits are
different than what fans usually associate with
performance-enhancing drugs.

”It’s not going to help you hit harder, run faster – not at all
like steroids,” Dr. Pliszka said.

But like those college kids cramming for a final, NFL players
can get a boost from the drug.

”It would absolutely give you a competitive advantage. Fatigue,
focus, concentration, maybe aggression,” said Dr. Michael Joyner,
a sports physiologist and anesthesiologist at the Mayo Clinic in
Rochester, Minn. ”And if they were using it during training, the
ability to train harder, longer, the ability to have fewer bad
days.”

In Seattle, the Seahawks’ starting cornerbacks face four-game
suspensions after failing tests for performance-enhancing drugs,
though exactly which substance was not clear. Fullback Michael
Robinson, the team’s union rep, vented Wednesday about the league’s
drug policy.

”When I think of performance enhancing, I think of making me
run faster, jump higher. I mean, really getting an edge on
somebody,” he said. ”I just wish they would take some of those
substances and clear it up so we know what exactly is going
on.”

Birch insisted the NFL does all it can to inform players that
Adderall is a banned substance.

”There’s ample education and awareness out there if the player
is attuned to it,” he said.

AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton in Denver and AP Sports
Writer Tim Booth in Renton, Wash., contributed to this report.