Last year Tyler Skaggs, 27, tragically died of a Fentanyl, Oxycontin, and alcohol overdose. Tyler underwent Tommy John surgery five years earlier, and during the 2017 and 2018, baseball seasons spent more than 180 days on the disabled list. In 2019 he started the season on the disabled list with an ankle sprain but ended up leading the Angels in wins and strikeouts at the time of his death. We still don’t know his path to addiction, but it is hard to imagine the warning signs weren’t there.
Now, less than a year later, MLB has come up with a very sensible and multiangled approach to combat the use of opioids in baseball. A first positive test for opioids will not result in suspension, but a treatment plan. These changes were agreed to by the Players Association, and they are designed to protect the baseball players from opioids and other addictive substances.
“The opioid epidemic in our country is an issue of significant concern to Major League Baseball,” said league Chief Legal Officer Dan Halem. “It is our hope that this agreement – which is based on principles of prevention, treatment, awareness, and education – will help protect the health and safety of our Players.”
Preventing opioid abuse will go further than testing, treatment, and disciplinary measures. MLB will require all players and team personnel to take classes on the “dangers of opioid pain medications and practical approaches to marijuana” during the next two seasons.
Each team in MLB has a grueling 162 game schedule that tests the body’s ability to recover and play consistently at a high level. Pain and injuries are part of the game, so a smart approach to managing that pain is long overdue.
One surprise from this new policy is the game’s “decriminalization” of marijuana. Marijuana will be treated the same as alcohol in the eyes of Major League Baseball. Some swear by marijuana’s ability to help with the pain. Kyle Turley recently said, “Cannabis saved my life, period, and it could help a lot of other players,” veteran lineman Kyle Turley, who played eight years in the NFL, told the Los Angeles Times in September.
Other studies show the opposite to be true:
One thing is clear. MLB has made a positive first step, and hopefully, the other major leagues will follow suit.