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Major League Baseball Has An ADHD Problem

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Major League Baseball has an unusually high number of players with ADHD, which has brought into question the validity of the toughest drug policy in all of professional sports.  After the steroids era became front page news, MLB and its players association turned up the heat and instituted a fairly comprehensive policy to curb drug abuse.

While the policy has worked for certain drugs — particularly the supplements that caused players like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to hit thousands of home runs — it has also led to the discovery of an epidemic among pro baseball players.  Apparently, MLB has an attention deficit problem.

ADHD — attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — is a common childhood mental health disorder that makes it difficult to focus on everyday routines.  Depending on your choice of research, between 6-10 percent of children and 2-4 percent of adults are affected by ADHD.  In baseball, it’s 14 percent!

How is it possible that professional baseball players are diagnosed with ADHD more than three times the average population?  Most likely, a loophole.

Adderall, the performance enhancing stimulant most often prescribed for ADHD, is an approved drug according to the MLB policy.  As long as Adderall, or a similar drug in its class, is prescribed by a physician, players can be granted a “therapeutic use exemption” to legally use the drug.

In 2006, 28 players were given therapeutic exemptions due to documented ADHD.  In 2013, there were 119 players diagnosed with ADHD.  And one more — Carlos Ruiz of the Philadelphia Phillies — was just recently granted an exemption.  So the number now is at 120.  In eight years, the percentage of MLB players with ADHD has increased from 3 percent to 14 percent.  That’s an epidemic-level jump.

In the most recent drug report issued by MLB, there were three additional therapeutic exemptions granted — all for hypogonadism, which is a clinical (and harsher sounding) term for low testosterone.  And what is the remedy for low-T?  Testosterone.  Given the trend, we should expect a rise in hypogonadism among baseball players.

MLB should be applauded for having the best drug policy in all of sports.  But if all of its players are legally taking once banned substances, is it still a drug policy?

-Brad Broker

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