Major League Baseball (MLB) is to start testing for opioids and cocaine, but only players who do not cooperate with their treatment plans would be subject to discipline.
Marijuana is to be removed from the list of drugs of abuse and be treated the same as alcohol as part of changes announced on Thursday to the joint drug agreement between MLB and the players’ association.
In addition, suspensions for marijuana use would be dropped from the minor league drug program.
Opioids are classified as a drug of abuse under the joint big league program, which began in late 2002 and until now has limited testing to performance-enhancing substances and banned stimulants.
Talks on adding testing for opioids started following the death of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who was found dead in his hotel room in the Dallas, Texas, area on July 1 before the start of a series against the Texas.
A medical examiner’s office said that the 27-year-old died after choking on his vomit with a toxic mix of alcohol and the painkillers fentanyl and oxycodone in his body.
“Players from our side of the equation recognize that there was an opportunity to take a leadership role here in this discussion,” union head Tony Clark said.
“Players aren’t immune to issues that affect all of us, and so the situation this year only heightened that, brought it even closer to home,” he said.
The extent of opioids use among players is “difficult to gauge” and the union concluded there “wasn’t necessarily a need to take a census as much as there was taking a leadership role in the conversation,” he added.
“I’m just thankful that the players union and MLB were able to address a serious issue in our nation that doesn’t have any boundaries and crosses lines into sport and work together for the betterment of our players,” Angels general manager Billy Eppler said.
“It shows a lot of human touch on the powers that be and I’m thankful for it,” he added.
Under the changes, MLB would test for opioids, fentanyl, cocaine and synthetic tetrahydrocannabinol.
Players who test positive would be referred to a treatment board established under the agreement.