NFL toughens drug policy

Amphetamine use now target of random testing, stiffer penalties

Pro Football

June 28, 2006|By BILL ORDINE | BILL ORDINE,SUN REPORTER

NFL players will face random testing and stiffer penalties for amphetamine use as the result of a change in league policy that now places the drug in the category of performance-enhancers, such as steroids.

Previously, the NFL categorized amphetamines as a "substance-abuse drug." Drugs in that group pose personal medical concerns, a league spokesman said, but are usually not considered substances that can give a player an edge on the field.

Use of drugs on the performance-enhancer list is scrutinized more closely with league-wide random testing and punishment is swifter.

The league and the NFL Players Association agreed on the amphetamine change as part of a new collective bargaining agreement in the offseason. Last year, congressional hearings were held on drug use in sports.

"We never looked at [amphetamines] as a competitive issue for our players, like steroids and other things, but realized the possibility that some players would use it for a game-day edge," said Harold Henderson, NFL executive vice president of labor relations. "The [players] union quickly agreed with us."

Full enforcement of amphetamines as a performance-enhancer will begin in 2007 with random testing. Starting that year, a first positive test for amphetamines will result in a four-game suspension.

In addition, a second positive test for performance-enhancing drugs will be upped to an eight-game suspension, an increase of two games. A third positive test will remain a one-year suspension.

However, 2006 is being treated as a transitional year for amphetamines during which a first positive test will make a player eligible only for reasonable-cause testing.

As a substance-abuse drug - which includes substances often described as recreational drugs - amphetamines were in a category where testing is annual, unless a player had already tested positive and was subject to more frequent checks. A player is not suspended for using drugs in that group until the third violation.

Punishment for performance-enhancers is greater, in part, because their use is considered cheating with the consequence of potentially encouraging other players to also use them to remain competitive.

Amphetamines are a stimulant that can give the user a heightened sense of energy and ability. But negative effects range from depression to psychotic behavior and brain damage, and the drug can be addictive.

bill.ordine@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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