M.L.B. Updates Drug Policy to Include Opioid Testing

As part of the policy changes, natural cannabinoids (THC, CBD and marijuana) were removed from the list of drugs of abuse, allowing major and minor leaguers to use them for relief from the aches and pains of the sport without fearing discipline.

Until now, minor league players had been subject to testing for drugs of abuse, such as marijuana, and could be suspended for positive tests.

Talks on amending the drug policy began after the death of Skaggs, who was found to have had fentanyl, oxycodone and alcohol in his system when he died in his room at a team hotel in Texas on July 1. Authorities in Texas are investigating Skaggs’s death and, according to an ESPN report in October, Eric Kay, the Angels’ director of communications, told federal investigators that he had previously provided opioids to Skaggs and used them with him.

“I’m just thankful that the players’ association and M.L.B. were able to address a serious issue in our nation — that doesn’t have boundaries — and work together for the betterment of our players,” Billy Eppler, the Angels general manager, told reporters during baseball’s annual winter meetings. “It shows a human touch.”

Drug overdoses killed more than 70,000 Americans in 2017, a record, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 48,000 of those deaths involved opioids. Drug overdoses in 2017 caused more deaths than H.I.V., car crashes or gun violence at their peaks, and the data show that the increase in deaths corresponds strongly with the use of fentanyls, synthetic opioids that are 30 to 50 times stronger than heroin and can be fatal in low doses.

“Players are overwhelmingly in favor of expanding our drug-testing regimen to include opioids, and want to take a leadership role in helping to resolve this national epidemic,” said Tony Clark, the executive director of the players’ union.


In an effort to increase fan safety after several injuries caused by foul balls hit into the stands, all 30 teams will extend protective netting at least beyond the far end of the dugout, M.L.B. Commissioner ROB MANFRED announced this week at baseball’s annual winter meetings. He said seven teams would have netting that extended even farther, all the way to the foul poles, and 15 teams are expanding their netting generally past what he called the elbow in the outfield, where the stands angle away from the field of play each side. “The data does show that the risk of foul balls is less when you get out past these elbows,” he said.

Tyler Kepner contributed reporting.