Busted after testing positive for amphetamines, Orioles slugger Chris Davis tried to turn the conversation away from the nefarious word "amphetamines" and toward something more benign, a drug so ubiquitous (and legal) today in America that it sounds harmless. Playing that shell game with words, Chris Davis mentioned Adderall and hopes you're fooled.
Adderall is a performance-enhancing drug that is being abused in baseball to the point of statistical absurdity. Doctors estimate 4.4 percent of the general adult population suffers from ADD and other disorders that would legitimize a prescription for Adderall, but this season more than double that percentage of MLB players -- roughly 9.9 percent of 40-man rosters league-wide, 119 players overall last year -- presented baseball with notes from their doctor that they required such medication. Davis says he has had such a doctor's note in the past. For whatever reason he didn't have one this season.
And without one?
"It's cheating," says Dr. Richard Lustberg, a New York State Licensed Psychologist and member of the American Psychological Association. "It does provide you with energy that you wouldn't normally have."
Adderall is the 21st century greenie, only better, because it provides a more controlled energy boost than the one players in the 1970s and '80s received while popping pills of what we now know as Ritalin.
Adderall is easy to get because there's no lab test to diagnose ADD. Basically it comes down to the player's word.
Player: Doc, I have trouble focusing.
Doctor: Where's your nearest Walgreens?
In Kansas City, Dr. Avner Stern has rejected the Adderall requests of more adults than he can count. Ask him if he has ever rejected a professional ballplayer, and he'll giggle softly and then give you a number. That one, he can count.
"Yes, I've had athletes ask for Adderall," Dr. Stern says. "Yes. I have. In one case there was a considerable amount of money at stake, and I've had to tell them no. That's only happened two times. So not very frequent. But it has happened."
It happens everywhere.
"I've seen doctors who want to be good guys," Dr. Lustberg says. "A patient says he has [ADD], so the doctor says, 'Yeah I think you have it. You're my friend, blah blah blah, you're telling me you can't focus.' So he prescribes it. He has a degree, so who's to say?"
In Philadelphia, Dr. Daniel A. Hussar of the University of the Sciences teaches about the abuse of a medication so dangerous, the DEA classifies Adderall as a Schedule II drug. Some other Schedule II drugs? Cocaine, Methadone, Oxycodone.
"Adderall is in the strongest category relative to risk," Dr. Hussar says. "Even for legitimate prescription use, there are significant controls that require pharmacists to maintain inventories of these drugs. Prescriptions have to be written, not phoned in. Originals can't be refilled. It can be a dangerous, addictive drug.
"College students have used it for years to cram for tests, and you can easily transfer that perceived benefit to an athlete that has a grueling schedule. A baseball player is in one city for 2-3 days, then traveling to another city, maybe they're crossing time zones. There's a certain level of fatigue associated with that. The use of a product like Adderall can provide a stimulant effect that's perceived as contributing to energy and performance."
Getting caught isn't so easy, given how fast the drug moves through the system. Dr. Lustberg says Adderall works immediately and is out of the body within eight hours.
"It's a very good drug to take and not be caught," he says. "It's in and out of your system very quickly. They probably got him on a day after he took it, and probably traces were left. It comes out of your system very, very quickly. But if it's in there, it's easily findable -- as Chris Davis found out."
Also easily obtainable. And easily abused. Dr. Hussar says it's not uncommon for people who illegally obtain a prescription for Adderall to not stop at one. The drug snowballs, one pill leading to another. If a little more focus or energy is good, then a lot more is great. Right?
"They'll intentionally take multiple prescriptions to different pharmacies in an effort to avoid detection," he says. "There's a certain level of abuse out there that could easily go undetected, and it's not until somebody experiences a problem or somebody's given a drug test in which use -- or overuse -- is recognized."