ADHD exemptions on rise in MLB

Updated: January 10, 2009, 12:39 AM ET
Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Baseball authorized nearly 8 percent of its players to use drugs for ADHD last season, which allowed them to take otherwise banned stimulants.

A total of 106 exemptions for banned drugs were given to major leaguers claiming attention deficit hyperactivity disorder from the end of the 2007 season until the end of the 2008 season, according to a report released Friday by the sport's independent drug-testing administrator.

That's up from 103 therapeutic use exemptions (TUEs) for ADHD in 2007, according to figures cited by baseball officials before a congressional committee last year.

"This is incredible. This is quite spectacular. There seems to be an epidemic of ADD in major league baseball," said Dr. Gary Wadler, chairman of the committee that determines the banned-substances list for the World Anti-Doping Agency.

He recommended an independent panel be established -- WADA recommends at least three doctors -- to review TUE requests in what he termed "a sport that grew up on greenies."

"I've been in private practice for a lot of years. I can count on one hand the number of individuals that have ADD," he said. "To say that [7.86 percent] of major league baseball players have attention deficit disorder is crying out of an explanation. It is to me as an internist so off the map of my own experience."

Rob Manfred, baseball's executive vice president of labor relations, said it would be a mistake to compare ADHD in baseball with statistics for the general population.

"We are all male. We are far younger than the general population, and we have far better access to medical care than the general population," Manfred said.

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates 3 percent to 5 percent of children have ADHD, according to its Web site.

There were 1,348 players subject to testing last season, according to a baseball official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the figure was not in the report. That was down slightly from 1,354 the previous year.

There were a total of 19 positives from 3,486 tests, according to the report.

There were 14 positives for banned stimulants -- all first-time offenders, who are not subject to suspension. Five players were suspended for performance-enhancing drugs.

Pitchers J.C. Romero and Sergio Mitre were penalized this week after testing positive for androstenedione, which came from contaminated supplements they purchased over-the-counter. Last season, San Francisco catcher Eliezer Alfonso, Colorado catcher Humberto Cota and Florida pitcher Henry Owens also were penalized.

The drugs that tripped them up were Nandrolone, Stanozolol and testosterone, although it wasn't announced which player tested positive for what drug.

"Pretty low numbers," union head Donald Fehr said of the five major league suspensions.

Rep. Henry Waxman, who chaired hearings into drug use in baseball, said he remained concerned about the large number of exemptions.

"But overall, I am pleased with the steps taken by MLB and the players' union to strengthen their drug testing program and eliminate the use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs," he added.

Rep. John Tierney, who brought up the issue last year, was not available for comment.

Just eight TUEs were granted for illnesses other than ADHD: three for hypertension, three for hypogonadism, one for post-concussion syndrome and one for metabolic myopathy. The 114 overall TUEs was up from 111 the previous year.

"All of the prescriptions for stimulants are the result of prescriptions written by doctors, and they also have to be passed on by Dr. Bryan Smith," Fehr said. "I don't know what more there is to say about that."

Starting in 2008, all TUE applications had to be approved by Smith, the program's independent administrator.

The number of new requests for TUE exemptions for ADHD drugs declined from 72 to 56, according to the baseball official.

Baseball toughened its testing program after the 2007 season following recommendations by former Senate majority leader George Mitchell, who spent 1 years investigating performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. Smith's annual report, which was to have been issued by Dec. 1, was one of Mitchell's recommendations.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press