Major League Baseball (MLB) will remove marijuana from its list of banned substances and players who test positive for opioids, fentanyl, cocaine and synthetic THC under random drug tests will be referred for treatment before being disciplined, the league’s updated drug policy announced on Thursday.
The sweeping changes, which take effect from Spring Training in 2020, “favor a treatment-based approach to Drugs of Abuse,” according to the joint announcement from the MLB and its players’ union.
The updated policy comes months after the shock death of 27-year-old Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, whose autopsy showed oxycodone, fentanyl, and alcohol in his system.
Major League players were not randomly tested for drugs of abuse including opioids unless there was reasonable cause under the previous policy.
Commissioner Rob Manfred told reporters on Wednesday, prior to releasing the new policy, that Skaggs’ death was “was a motivating factor” in “addressing in the context of our industry what is really a societal problem in terms of opioids.”
Opioid misuse has grown to a “crisis” in the United States, according to the National Institutes of Health, with roughly 1.2 million people over the age of 12 estimated to have an opioid use disorder.
Kellyanne Conway, a senior counsellor to U.S. President Donald Trump, praised the updated policy in a written statement.
“We commend Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association for promoting treatment and recovery for those suffering from the disease of addiction and opioid misuse,” Conway said.
“We appreciate the example that a trusted and beloved American institution is setting for others.”