Should Miguel Tejada Suspension Mean More Education on Prescription Drug Abuse?

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Should Miguel Tejada Suspension Mean More Education on Prescription Drug Abuse?
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Miguel Tejada signs an autograph for a young boy

Miguel Tejada received a 105-game suspension from Major League Baseball on Saturday for using Adderall, a penalty that could end the career of the Dominican journeyman and former MVP who is currently 39 years of age and resting on the 60-day disabled list, according to Yahoo! Sports

This may be an ideal time to educate MLB players on prescription drug use. 

The suspension, which is the second-longest behind Alex Rodriguez's 211 games, came after the Kansas City Royals infielder violated the MLB's Joint Drug Program and, more specifically, the Therapeutic Use Exemption, for the second and third times this season, according to MLB.com

The Therapeutic Use Exemption, which relates to the league's allowance of use of certain prohibited drugs with a valid prescription, states the following:

A Player authorized to ingest a Prohibited Substance through a valid, medically appropriate prescription provided by a duly licensed physician shall receive a Therapeutic Use Exemption ("TUE").  To be "medically appropriate," the Player must have a documented medical need under the standards accepted in the United States or Canada for the prescription in the prescribed dosage.  A specimen which is found to contain a Prohibited Substance will not be deemed a positive test result if such specimen was provided by a player with an effective TUE for that substance. A player with a TUE for a Prohibited Substance does not violate the Program by possessing or using that substance. 

Tejada had been using Adderall, according to Yahoo! Sports, but his exemption to do so had expired—or was no longer "effective"—in April of this year. As Bob Nightengale of USA Today explains:

Tejada, the 2002 American League MVP, never disputed the test result from last week, but the Major League Baseball Players Association argued that he had a therapeutic use exemption for the drug. Yet, his exemption expired April 15, according to the person familiar with the test, and Major League Baseball refused to grant him an extension.

Despite the recent frenzied fallout from the Biogenesis investigation beginning two weeks ago, the journeyman Kansas City Royals infielder was not exactly the latest domino. 

This news is a peculiar digression from many of the marquee—and not-so-marquee—big leaguers who have been suspended, tweeted about, outcasted and replaced for using performance-enhancing drugs. 

Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

It is a reminder of recent NFL suspensions—most notably of some Seattle Seahawks players—for abuse of the popular medication intended for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

According to an April 11, 2013, article on ESPN.com, Richard Sherman—one of those Seahawks players whose ban ultimately was overturned on appeal—told the Vancouver Sun:

He acknowledged the drug is "banned" for use by players who don't have a prescription, but he still doesn't understand the stigma associated with the drug.

"I've never heard a prescribed drug called a performance enhancer in any other sport," he said.

"The thing that people don't understood is that it's a prescribed drug that some people have to take."

Sherman may have had a point. But these drugs are not only used by "some people" who "have to take them." They are also used to enhance mental performance or focus on the playing field and become part of college campuses, classrooms and culture. 

As one June 2013 scholarly article from Virginia Commonwealth University's Department of Psychology notes:

In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the non-medical use of prescription drugs among young adults including an increase in the use of prescription stimulants normally used to treat ADHD. Reported motivations for the non-medical use of prescription stimulants (NPS) include enhancing academic performance and to get high. 

The unfortunate truth is that abuse of prescription drugs occurs among many of the country's young—many of us have heard of it, spoken about it or become a part of it.

We have seen infomercials, public service announcements and school visits to warn youth of the dangers of steroids and human growth hormones. But with the ongoing national discussion, warranted stigmatization and ever-present MLB probing of such PEDs, our understanding of other harmful substances may currently be saturated.

The Tejada suspension should mean more education on prescription drugs in three significant areas of the country: our public, our schools and our professional sports leagues. More importantly, the lead could best be taken by our country's professional athletes.

Both cancer awareness and anti-steroid programs are examples of our society's improving discourse and understanding of problematic issues over the last few years, and ones that are aided greatly by those on the playing fields.

Many NCAA football, basketball, and soccer games are played in which athletes wear pink socks or jersey trim to raise awareness for breast cancer.

In February of this year, for instance, the Texas A&M Women's Basketball program hosted the seventh-annual BTHO ("Beat the Hell Outta") Breast Cancer Game, which, among other donations, included a silent auction for the Kay Yow Foundation. Here is a press release, which mentions that "In the past six seasons A&M has raised over $150,000 for breast cancer."

Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Similarly, Major League Baseball has teamed up with the Prostate Cancer Foundation on Father's Day. As, a June 2013 release on MLB.com explains, players, coaches and umpires wore blue ribbons and wristbands and a blue scorecard was used during special pre-game ceremonies. 

Furthermore, since 2007, the NFL has partnered with ATLAS (Adolescents Training and Learning to Avoid Steroids) and ATHENA (Athletes Targeting Healthy Exercise and Nutrition Alternatives) as part of its drug prevention programs, as detailed on NFL.com

The press release stated the following:

"The ATLAS and ATHENA programs are nationally-acclaimed programs designed to promote healthy living and reduce the use of steroids, human growth hormone (HGH) and other drugs among high school athletes," and that "Throughout the year, coaches and student-athletes trained as 'Squad Leaders' will lead their school teams in exercises using peer and group influences to promote sports nutrition and healthy behaviors. These weekly 45-minute sessions include role-play, student-created campaigns and interactive games. Participants will create mock public service announcements to teach others about the importance of avoiding substance use."

But with the success of campaigns in high schools, colleges and professional athletics to raise public awareness of health issues and also educate on the dangers of harmful performance-enhancing drugs, we should do a better job of acknowledging and teaching on the above-mentioned so-called "other drugs."

There is no reason an added emphasis on prescriptions drugs—especially one as widely-known and abused as Adderall—should not be implemented into preexisting programs for amateur athletes hoping to become professional; and for those professional athletes themselves. 

If it is a problem whose foundation lies in a lack of public acknowledgement of mental health illness on the same level as physical health or injuries, then who better to lead a charge in pre-game ceremonies or nationwide youth initiatives than professional athletes?

Athletes and leagues like the MLB, NFL and NBA would be a great starting point—whether by wearing a different color of socks or through televised five minute-long public service announcements from stars in the broadcasted game— from which to bring issues like ADHD and abuse of prescription drugs to the forefront.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

If cancer is plaguing the population enough to be in the public psyche, we must do a better job of educational programs as well as athlete partnerships and visits to colleges, where abuse of those prescriptions is a major problem.

It is time we now begin a useful and didactic discourse on the abuse—and proper use—of prescription drugs in America. That is best led by the ones on whom the spotlight, or stadium lights, shine the brightest—even in dark times for those like Miguel Tejada. 

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