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


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


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


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


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


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


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.