Breaking Down Latest Changes to Drug Testing Policy in WWE's Wellness Program

David Bixenspan@davidbixFeatured ColumnistNovember 14, 2013

UNCASVILLE, CT - AUGUST 3:  Actor Jeremy Piven guest hosts WWE's 'Monday Night Raw' at Mohegan Sun on August 3, 2009 in Uncasville, Connecticut.  (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

With the eighth anniversary of the original announcement of the WWE Talent Wellness Program being a week away, some changes to the included Substance Abuse and Drug Testing Policy have been discovered by Steven Fernandes of PWInsider.com.  The policy was actually amended almost four months ago, on July 23rd, but WWE generally doesn't make an announcement when they update the policy, so the changes were under the radar for a while.

It looks like there are two changes to the policy itself as well as some minor changes to the language about how talent can seek help if they believe they've developed addiction issues.

The first change relates to how a talent can get a Therapeutic Use Exemption (or "TUE") for a banned substance.  In the previous version of the policy (last updated January 15th, 2012), there was no such provision, and the word "therapeutic" only appears once, stating that "a test that confirms the presence of drug metabolite concentrations in excess of the levels expected when a drug prohibited by this Policy is being used consistent with the therapeutic management of pain will be treated as a positive test."

That language appears in both the older and newer versions of the policy in section 12-A under "Definition of a Positive Test."  The older version already allowed provisional (as in short-term) prescriptions under section 7, which is now section 7-A.

WWE Substance Abuse & Drug Testing Policy Amendments
DateAmendment Details
6/13/06Additions to banned substance list.
8/21/06Suspended talent may be required to work TV/PPV w/o pay.
5/16/07Suspended talent may be also work house shows w/o pay but w/ a $200/show stipend.
Summer 2007Marijuana is banned, but is punished by a $1,000 fine and does not get you a strike.
8/29/09Marijuana fine increased to $2,500.
9/13/10Soma/cariosprodol & Milltown/reprobamate are banned outright; cannot be approved for any kind of exemption.
6/6/11Synthetic cannibis (Spice, K2, etc.) is banned. Unlike Marijuana, you can be suspended if you test positive for it.
1/15/12"Bath salts"/synthetic stimulants/synthetic cathinones added to banned substance list.
7/23/13Addition of TUE guidelines and Violation Redemption Program.
Corporate.WWE.com & PWTorch.com

Section 7-B outlines the procedure for TUEs, which are required if a drug that is normally a banned substance needs to be used for more than 60 days—a TUE is valid for a year from the date that WWE medical staff was notified of the talent's personal doctor writing the prescription.  Talent cannot, under any circumstances, try to ask for a TUE to try to get out of a positive drug test, or claim that (s)he thought there was a TUE in place when there wasn't.

For narcotic/opiate painkillers, it doesn't appear to be that big of a change, as overuse will still be seen as a positive test.  I'm sure there will be speculation that exemptions allowing testosterone replacement therapy are now allowed, and reading the policy, it certainly seems possible.

Testosterone replacement therapy is the most common treatment for low testosterone, clinically known as hypogonadism.  A common side effect of long-term steroid abuse is a permanent decrease in natural testosterone production.  This is due to damage to either the testes (primary hypogonadism, the testes just won't work) or hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (secondary hypogonadism, the testes should work but the brain isn't telling them to work) from the prominence of so much artificial testosterone.

While it's become a hotly debated topic in mixed martial arts, where I agree with the idea that it's too much of a wildcard to be allowed, I don't mind it in pro wrestling.  Pro wrestling isn't an actual competitive contact sport; so I'd rather the performers were allowed to get healthy if they're suffering from legitimate hormonal issues.

As long as the talent is blood tested (a urine test can't determine total testosterone levels) regularly and randomly, it's fine by me.  The testing and enforcement is how you keep talent honest, as without regular blood testing, it could become a license to abuse steroids.

The other major change to the policy is the addition of section 15-D, the Violation Redemption Program, which I suspect to be even more controversial, as it pertains to how strikes/violations are counted.  Historically, three strikes mean you're fired for at least a year and have to undergo extensive testing if you try to come back.  Now, if a talent has two strikes/violations (a failed drug test for all banned substances other than marijuana and alcohol), they can enter the 18 month Redemption Program to potentially remove the strike.

There are four requirements to the Redemption Program, which I will try my best to translate into plain English:

  1. The talent is assessed by the Medical Director (or an addiction specialist recommended by the Medical director), who will analyze/identify the talent's issues, develop a treatment plan and determine the talent's entry date into the program.
  2. The talent must comply with the treatment plan made by the Medical Director (or recommended addiction specialist) for the length of the program, which is 18 months.  The policy mentions "treatments, therapies and support programs," so the treatment plan could theoretically include requirements ranging from medications used to combat addiction (like opiate-blocking drugs or anti-alcohol drugs) to seeing a therapist to regularly attending 12-step program meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous.
  3. Talent must undergo the same "unannounced follow-up testing" that was already required of talent with two strikes; except it's for the 18 month duration of the Redemption Program instead of the 12 month period for those who don't try to enter the program.
  4. Talent cannot violate the substance abuse policy while involved in the redemption program, which should be obvious.

If the talent successfully completes the 18 month program, (s)he can request that the Program Administrator, with the Medical Director's approval, remove one of his/her two strikes.

On paper, it appears that the idea is that if a talent makes a good faith effort to attend counseling and/or support groups and proactively do whatever (s)he can to stay clean and sober for 18 months, (s)he's rewarded with the removal of a strike.  A motivator to stay very engaged with the treatment process, more or less.

The biggest complaint I've seen so far is from people, who don't seem to have read more than the most basic summary, is the idea that someone can lose a strike.  Since WWE Champion Randy Orton has two strikes and won the title about four weeks after the Redemption Program was implemented, there's all sorts of fan speculation that it was designed solely for him to be able to drop a strike.

That doesn't track with reality: Even if Orton somehow entered the program as soon as it started, he'd only be about four months into it.  He wouldn't be eligible for strike removal until January 2015, 18 months from when it was launched.

On one hand, I'm not especially gung-ho about the idea.  However, if you're going to implement a method for removing a strike, the Redemption Program, as written, is about the best way you can do it.  In addition, if you want to try to encourage talent to stay active in the recovery process, it's a good incentive.  There are certainly other ways to try to get them to do it, but I can see the argument for offering a huge incentive over trying to force them into it after the second strike.

I think that about covers it for now.  What does everyone think of the changes?  Let us know in the comments.

David Bixenspan has been Bleacher Report's WWE Team Leader and a contracted columnist since 2011. You can follow him on Twitter @davidbix and check out his wrestling podcasts at LLTPod.com.

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