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Are There Speed Freaks in the Major Leagues Trying to Gain an Edge, or Just a Lot of Legitimate ADHD Patients?

A lot of athletes are still taking powerful drugs -- some with prescriptions, some without.


Sports fans find it hard not to laugh at psychostimulants in the headlines. Scan them today and you'll find busted users in the National Football League, Major League Baseball, NASCAR and elsewhere breaking rules to swallow pills, in sports whose predictable  drug abuse goes back decades. But kids emulating these athletes, and those who aren't, are also snorting and selling psychostimulants to stay awake to make grades and money. And then what? One starts to wonder whether we're stimulating too many psychos.

Consider the amphetamine Adderall, which has for the last few years of the United States'  prescription drug abuse epidemic become quite the  performance enhancer. Since appearing in the '90s from Ireland's Shire Pharmaceuticals as a spinoff of a weight-control drug, through the years Adderall has sped its way to Israel's Teva Pharmaceuticals, which has cornered both its brand and generic market to the tune of $40 a share, as well approved consumption by everyone from  preschoolers to professional ballers.

"There is a growing number of people taking these drugs to gain an edge on concentration," the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists' Barbara Young told AlterNet. "But these drugs are stimulants. Could people achieve the same focus with 10 cups of coffee? Perhaps. But these stimulants are being used more for performance enhancement rather than their approved use for a diagnosed clinical condition."

Those clinical conditions range rather widely within the agitations of attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Once a suspicious umbrella for a variety of behavioral issues, ADHD has since become  rock-star cool and a disproportional affliction of athletic millionaires. Over the years, baseball's recently self-released drug reports of  athletes taking Adderall and other stimulants -- with a prescription, mind you -- was roughly double the general population. Major leaguers like  Andres Torres and Scott Eyre have come out with ADHD, while others like  Jason Kendall have been bogged in Adderall  scandals and busts. In the last few weeks, minor leaguers have been getting  nailed for amphetamines at a brisk clip.

"I have no comment," Major League Baseball's scouting bureau director Frank Marcos said, after AlterNet asked his thoughts about stimulant use and abuse in the minor and majors. And who could blame him? After all, the drug is everywhere now that it has received the imprimatur of acceptable treatment.

NFL players like Tyler Sash and more recently  Joe Haden have been busted for Adderall without a prescription, while their legitimately dosed teammates with perhaps more liberal doctors and pharmacists skate on by. AlterNet got about as far discussing the psychostimulant situation with the NFL Player's Association as it did with the MLB scouts. But two days after we queried it about Adderall and the  lawsuit-prone Ritalin, the  NFLPA released a warning to players that they need the proper therapeutic use exemptions to take them. They can't just pop any pill someone hands them at a party.

Athletes with proper exemptions and diagnoses include baseball players like  Torres, subject of a forthcoming documentary from director Anthony Haney-Jardine, who says he was an early ADHD skeptic, but has since situated Torres' condition as the axis of his film biography.

"I was skeptical because I was damned ignorant," Haney-Jardine told AlterNet "I'm ashamed to admit this, but my personal premise was that ADHD was a condition that lived on a spectrum, that effectively existed in every one of us. That those who suffered from it were weak and lacking self-discipline, control or adequate education. I had a personal disdain when I heard that anyone was getting special dispensation. I thought that ADHD was a word for a  syndrome created by marketers, to sort out children who lacked control and the long stick of discipline. In the end, I realized that it is both a social construct and an actual mental condition."

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