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Adderall under scrutiny, but players say banned drug still being used to gain edge

by | National NFL Insider

Aqib Talib is one of the players to run afoul of the NFL's policy on Adderall. (US Presswire)  
Aqib Talib is one of the players to run afoul of the NFL's policy on Adderall. (US Presswire)  

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive back Aqib Talib is serving a four-game suspension for using a performance-enhancing drug. That drug is Adderall. None of the dozen or so players I spoke to would say they used Adderall, but all said they knew a player who has used the drug prescribed to patients with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

Apparently the drug is used throughout the season, but peak periods are in training camp and around the halfway point, when bodies break down and minds are weary.

The effects "like a hundred cups of coffee," one player described. In his statement following his suspension, Talib said he used Adderall once, without a prescription, at the beginning of training camp in August.

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Players I spoke with say Adderall is taken with a steady stream of diet soda or coffee and the effect is an ability to super-concentrate for anywhere from 10-15 hours. Side effects include a loss of appetite and inability to sleep, sometimes for more than a day.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Adderall has been on the league's performance-enhancing drug list since 2006, but was banned years before that. Players are required by the NFL to have a prescription for the drug.

According to the NFL, the league tests for prohibited drugs up to six times during the offseason, once in training camp, and every week during the season up to 10 players from each team are randomly tested.

With the testing in place, players I spoke to said that from 2006-2010 Adderall was still used illegally by about 30 percent of the league. Now players are saying the number has shrunk to around 15 percent, or roughly 250 players.

While players may be simply getting more prescriptions for the drug, many I spoke to speculate that the league is better at detecting the drug. The suspensions of Talib and Cleveland Browns star cornerback Joe Haden may play a role in that.

Since 2010, approximately six players have been suspended for using the drug, including New York Giants safety Will Hill this season.

"I received a doctor's prescription for Adderall prior to signing with the Giants," said Hill, whose script for the drug was from his college days. "Shortly after signing with the team, I was in a meeting with [director of player development] Charles Way, who reviewed the list of the league's banned substances. I knew at that point that this may be an issue. I was tested and the results came back that Adderall was in my system. I appealed but lost the appeal. I accept full responsibility for this situation, and it won't happen again."

Union sources say that within the past few months, team player representatives have been stressing to players the dangers of using Adderall and the ease of which a player can get busted for it by the NFL.

A source close to Haden said he took the drug back in July having no idea it was illegal and thought it was a "party drug."

There is also concern among players that testing rules governing Adderall are too severe. At Haden's appeal, according to a source, the arbitrator basically disagreed with the rule that stimulants taken during non-football times, when there is not necessarily performance to enhance, are considered the same as a positive steroid test. Some players want a player who tests positive for Adderall in the offseason to be enrolled in a substance-abuse program, where suspensions aren't automatic and a player's career and reputation aren't damaged.

"This is another issue that we failed to fully resolve before ratification of the new CBA," said one team player rep. "When we settled the Brady case, if you remember, the players went back to training camp, at which point discussions on the CBA issues finally commenced. To me, those are the type of union working conditions issues that really affect the day-to-day life of a player, much more so than the economics and the bottom line. How much different is 49 percent from 50 percent of the total revenues in terms of actual money in an individual player's pocket? Very little. But as Haden learned, what's the result of having insufficient, draconian drug testing procedures? A four-game suspension and about $1.6 million. That's tough to swallow."


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