Adderall in Sports: What’s It All Mean?

philliesYou’ve heard it by now. Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz, the player most likely to be labeled so cute! by your girlfriend, has been suspended 25 games during the 2013 MLB season after testing positive for Adderall, a drug that provides a calming sensation in those suffering from attention defecit hyperactivity disorder. For those who do not have ADHD or ADD, Adderall can be used to pick yourself up, stay up all night, study for finals, play baseball really well, etc.

Ruiz was the bright, shining star of last year’s dud team (and, let’s be honest, the coolest Phillie, period). He hit .325 with 16 home runs and 68 RBIs in 2012—and has consistently been the most consistent hitter on the team since the rest of the World Series squad began showing their age in 2010. This is the second time Ruiz tested positive for the drug, and it’ll be his first suspension.

“I am sincerely regretful for my mistake in taking a prohibited stimulant,” Ruiz said in a prepared statement. “I apologize to my teammates, the Phillies organization and the Philadelphia fans. I will serve the imposed 25-game suspension to begin the season and I look forward to returning to the field and working toward bringing a championship back to Philadelphia in 2013.”

The Phillies have noted they will “support Carlos in an appropriate manner.”

Feeling down about Chooch? Well, you should. But know this: He’s not alone. Adderall—a legal drug often prescribed to children suffering from attention deficit hyperactive disorder—is a growing problem in sports. And like steroids before it, there are so many ways around the rules. It’s a surprise Ruiz wasn’t able to find one.

The Drug

Carlos Ruiz will get to think about what’s he’s done for the first 25 games of the 2013 season (and watch Erik Kratz attempt to use the opportunity to make himself a mainstay in the lineup), but that doesn’t mean others will necessarily learn from his mistake. Adderall is regularly prescribed to kids and adults alike, including a disproportionate number of professional athletes and seems to be the “it” performance-enhancing drug of the moment in the MLB and NFL. According to an analysis by USA Today, about 9 percent of all professional baseball players legally take Adderall for ADHD, compared with, according to the National Institute of Mental Health’s 2006 numbers, 4.4 percent of adults nationally.

Which is fine, to an extent. The stimulant has been OK’d for prescription-laden athletes in the NFL, MLB, NBC and NCAA (it’s banned completely in the NHL), and players who use it legally have to get a waiver from the MLB. Waivers have shot up in recent years, most notably from 2006-2007, right around the time steroid abuse was becoming public, from 28 to 103. Chooch was not able, or did not attempt, to convince a doctor he needed the drug.

So it’s not surprise the kid-smartener is being used by MLB players. There’s a huge amount of hand-eye coordination that goes into baseball—both in the field and behind the plate. If you’re playing the infield, you have to be ready in a split second to go after a sharply hit ground ball or line drive to the face. What’s surprising is that more than a dozen NFL players have blamed suspensions on Adderall this year, too. But they may be lying.

Full Disclosure

The baseball players’ union’s rules allow the MLB to announce, publicly, whether they’ve tested positive for steroids, HGH or a stimulant, as can be seen by Carlos Ruiz’s mishap. The NFL players’ union has, as part of its collective bargaining agreement, banned the league from publicly repeating what any single player has tested positive for, when he’s found to be a lying, cheating, charlatan.

An unproven theory is that football players test positive for banned substances, then publicly admit they’ve taken the ADHD medication to keep the public on their side. Its massive use among the public, so they say, makes testing positive for the stimulant more acceptable than, say, HGH. And to make it that much weirder, the NFL does not disclose how many of its players have a therapeutic exemption for Adderall.

As USA Today notes: “Adding some intrigue in the NFL is that under current league policy players can blame any positive drug test on Adderall — even if it was for a more stigmatizing substance such as steroids — while knowing that the league is prohibited from releasing information to the contrary.”

Other Over-the-Counter Pills

And Adderall isn’t alone in its over-the-counter shadiness. Raiders receiver Louis Murphy was arrested last year for carrying an unlabeled prescription pill bottle containing 11 pills which were later identified as Viagra. “The drug works by increasing the effects of nitric oxide, which makes blood vessels expand,” according to an MSNBC report. “That should theoretically allow blood cells to travel to the lungs more efficiently and to also receive more oxygen. It may also improve heart function.”

So!

If you’ve learned nothing else, know this: Carlos Ruiz is out for the first 25 games of 2013. It’s a bummer.

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