Adderall abuse: NFL shifts attention to gray area in drug policy

Until recently, the NFL’s regulations on drug usage have appeared to achieve their purpose—primarily, to protect against drug abuse and addiction among players—and also to prohibit players from using performance enhancing substances.

In 2011, just seven players were suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. However, in 2012 the NFL handed out a record-high 19 suspensions to players for failed urine tests.

The NFL Players Association has kept the league from publicizing the specific substances that players have failed for, but that doesn’t keep players from publicly pleading their case. Of the 19 players suspended, at least seven were either linked to, or blamed, of taking Adderall. Adderall is a medication used to treat Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

Although this increase in drug-related suspensions displays the efficacy of the NFL’s drug policies, the emergence of Adderall abuse in the NFL raises many questions that have yet to be answered.

Adderall has gained significant popularity in recent years, particularly among college students using the drug as a study aid, enabling them to focus for hours on end. Andrew Spanswick, a mental health and drug addiction expert, told CBS News that approximately 25 percent of students are using Adderall at least once a year, both legally and illegally.

When Adderall is used correctly and cautiously, it can be highly effective in coping with ADD when diagnosed by a physician. Unfortunately, many use Adderall to postpone intense fatigue in order to be productive, which can be dangerous, according to the New York Times.

The Drug Enforcement Administration has categorized Adderall as a Schedule II controlled substance for its particularly addictive tendencies. Both cocaine and morphine are also placed in this category.

The NFL drug policy has two separate policies dealing with the many issues concerning drug use and the prevention of it. The first is the NFL Policy and Program for Substances of Abuse dealing with both legal and illegal drugs, even including alcohol, then followed by the NFL’s Policy on Anabolic Steroids and Related Substances.

What makes Adderall the game-changer to the NFL drug policy lies in that it is, in fact, a game-changer for many players. Although the drug is an addictive substance for abuse, Adderall is actually considered and treated as a performance-enhancing drug by the NFL, sharing equal consequences to anabolic steroid use.

The variation between the two, being that physician-prescribed Adderall usage can be approved by the NFL, is the primary controversy brought with the emergence of the substance.

NFL players have voiced their accounts of Adderall usage in the league, both on and off the field. Seahawks safety Richard Sherman, who was suspended for failing a drug test which he claimed to be for Adderall, expressed that ‘half the league” uses the drug. Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon seconded the prevalent usage throughout the league, and criticized the fairness of its benefits.

“It gives you an upper hand that regular guys like myself don’t have,” Garcon said. “It helps you focus more attention to what’s going on on the field, and that is an advantage because regular people like myself… Don’t have it.”

He also added that players use the drug in order to study film.

Experts have described the potential benefits of Adderall usage to athletes. Spanwick also informed CBS News about Adderall’s advantages. He said, “(Adderrall) makes you more aware and attentive… More calm and alert, and makes things go slower, which is perfect for an NFL player.”

Spanwick also claimed that Adderall could theoretically give defenders a better jump on the ball. It has even been claimed that Adderall can reduce pain and motivate players to push through bumps and bruises.

The allowance of Adderall use in the NFL has thus created a gray area to the NFL, its players, and its fans. According to Dr. Lenard Adler, who runs the adult ADHD, program at New York University Langone Medical Center, said there is no doubting that ADD is a legitimate disorder, dealt with by about 4.4% of people.

Therefore, it is justified that players who have ADD be admitted to use Adderall. The main concern does not criticize this allowance, but instead is focused through the other users in the NFL, whether they are either using the drug illegally, or even legally, without truly having ADD.

With the parameters of an ADD diagnosis so vague and manipulative, relying on the patient’s subjective accounts of “losing focus often,” it is difficult to determine whether the allowance of prescribed Adderall usage is fair to players without the substance.

Ultimately, the NFL must decide either to allow legal Adderall usage, thus inviting a significant group of frauds seeking a competitive edge, in turn hindering justice of players without it, or, ban usage altogether, thus hindering justice of those actually suffering from ADD.

Until the specifications of an ADD diagnosis become more concrete, this issue should indeed remain a somewhat unresolved issue for those connected to the NFL.

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