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MLB, MLBPA announce changes to the Joint Drug Agreement

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This was done thoughtfully. Well done, baseball.

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Last summer, Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs died in his hotel room in Texas, aged just 27. It was later revealed that Skaggs’ death was due to an opioid overdose.

Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association sat down over the last few months and tried to work out a policy to deal with this problem, which is endemic in American society, not just in sports.

I can report good news to you on this front. MLB and the MLBPA have worked out changes to their Joint Drug Agreement that focus on treatment, not punishment. This is absolutely the right way to go.

Here is what they announced in a joint press release Thursday. These changes will be in effect beginning with Spring Training 2020.

All samples collected under the Program will now be tested for the presence of Opioids, Fentanyl, Cocaine, and Synthetic THC (among other Drugs of Abuse). Any Player who tests positive for one of these Drugs of Abuse will be referred to the Parties’ Joint Treatment Board (composed of medical professionals specializing in substance abuse and representatives from the Office of the Commissioner and the Players Association) for an initial evaluation and, if appropriate, formulation of a personalized treatment plan for that Player going forward. Only Players who fail to cooperate with their initial evaluation or prescribed treatment plan may be subject to discipline.

Natural Cannabinoids (e.g., THC, CBD, and Marijuana) will be removed from the Program’s list of Drugs of Abuse. Going forward, marijuana-related conduct will be treated the same as alcohol-related conduct under the Parties’ Joint Treatment Program for Alcohol-Related and Off-Field Violent Conduct, which provides for mandatory evaluation, voluntary treatment and the possibility of discipline by a Player’s Club or the Commissioner’s Office in response to certain conduct involving Natural Cannabinoids.

Educational Programs on the dangers of opioid pain medications and practical approaches to marijuana will be mandatory for all Players and Club Personnel during the 2020 and 2021 seasons. These educational programs will focus on evidence-based and health-first approaches based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety.

This is absolutely the right way to approach this — by education and rehab. Kudos to MLB and the MLBPA for coming up with the right way to approach this problem. Further, it’s good that the use of THC, CBD and marijuana will now be treated under a program designed to have treatment rather than punishment or suspension.

MLB Deputy Commissioner & Chief Legal Officer Dan Halem said in a statement: “The opioid epidemic in our country is an issue of significant concern to Major League Baseball. It is our hope that this agreement — which is based on principles of prevention, treatment, awareness and education — will help protect the health and safety of our Players. I commend the Players Association and its membership for their thoughtful approach to this important issue. We also appreciate the support and guidance offered to us by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. 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.”

Tony Clark, Executive Director of the MLBPA, said in a statement: “Players are overwhelmingly in favor of expanding our drug-testing regimen to include opioids, and want to take a leadership role in helping to resolve this national epidemic.”

Again, good for MLB and the MLBPA for taking this approach. Hopefully, it will help prevent tragedies like Skaggs’ death going forward.