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Report: Adderall remains drug of choice for many NFL players

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Adderall and its popularity among players has been an issue in the NFL during recent years. In the last 20 months, more than a dozen players have been suspended for using Adderall or Ritalin, which are regularly prescribed for attention deficit disorder.

The drug even has been mentioned during the HGH testing talks between the NFL and the Players Association, with the league proposing to ease restrictions on Adderall use.

The Denver Post examined the use of Adderall in the NFL as well as other pro sports leagues.


In 2012, the NFL handed out suspensions to 19 players for a violation of the league's substance-abuse policy; in eight of those, the player was linked to Adderall or publicly blamed it for a failed test. That number was more than double from 2011, when seven players had drug-related suspensions, one of which was linked to Adderall. One suspended player has been linked to Adderall in 2013: Seahawks defensive end Bruce Irvin.


Adderall is known as a popular study drug among college students, and that trend has leaked into the realm of professional sports. It is classified by the NFL as a performance-enhancing drug and as a drug of abuse. Discipline depends on which policy a player is being tested under. Adderall also is banned by Major League Baseball, the NBA, Major League Soccer, the NCAA and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, which regulates Olympic sports.


The national prevalence of ADHD in adults is about 4 percent, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. The number of exemptions granted by the NFL is confidential, but MLB granted 116 exemptions in the 2012 season, meaning about 9 percent of baseball had the exemption.


The report reminded readers that many NFL players reportedly use Adderall as a cover-up for other drugs. That's because the NFL drug policy doesn't allow the league to say which drug caused a player to fail a test.


Although he's not able to discuss specific cases, Adolpho Birch, NFL senior vice president of labor law and policy, said the league saw an uptick in positive amphetamine tests during the 2012 season. The test doesn't distinguish between Adderall and other amphetamines. The NFL would like to be able to publicly announce the causes of failed tests but hasn't gained that concession from the players association.


"We're hopeful that we will be able to get to a point that we are able to do that, because we do feel that it has an educational and awareness effect," Birch said.


Many players still claim they didn't know Adderall was banned, said Denver Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard.


"I get an e-mail probably once a week or so (from the NFL) of a new drug or a new supplement that's banned," Woodyard said. "You've just got to stay on top of it. There's a lot of stuff we really don't know about, but that's why you've got to use your resources."


Broncos rookie wide receiver Tavarres King said he had teammates at Georgia who were prescribed Adderall, though he didn't know of any issues with misuse. NFL rookies are required to attend meetings that explain the drug policy.


"The biggest thing they talk about in meetings is to know what's going in your body," King said. "If somebody's doing that, they know what they're doing."


Yet Birch said he reminds players that ignorance is no excuse. All drugs must be checked by a team's medical personnel before they are ingested.


"The key to understanding is to make sure people know they've got to get these things checked out and approved," Birch said. "That's a message we have to say constantly. There's not much more that we can do, but you do have to be consistent with messaging."


-- Bill Bradley, contributing editor

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