Major League Baseball and the Players Association have no shortage of topics to talk about these days, but a new issue has forced its way onto the agenda: opioid testing. The autopsy results after the tragic passing of Tyler Skaggs turned this national conversation into a touch point for MLB, and the two sides are discussing the possibilities of including random screenings for opioids into the official drug testing program, per Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times.
Opioids do appear on the banned-substance list – a fine first step – but major league players aren’t subject to testing without reasonable cause. Tony Clark, the executive director of the Players Association, released a statement last Friday in which he said: “For several reasons, including the tragic loss of a member of our fraternity and other developments happening in the country as a whole, it is appropriate and important to reexamine all of our drug protocols relating to education, treatment and prevention.”
As drug testing has been an area of relative common ground in recent years, an accord here could inject a note of harmony to a negotiation largely fraught with skepticism. Even so, don’t expect anything contractual in the near-term. The opioid crisis is but one issue among many being discussed in the lead up to CBA negotiations in 2021. MLB and the Players Association are meeting about once a month for these “early negotiations,” per The Athletic’s Evan Drellich. While these sessions could not be more foundational to the overall discussions, the goal of diplomacy at this stage is more to about gauging temperature than putting pen to paper.
Both sides cite player welfare as a primary objective of these preliminary talks, though at present, there’s little reason to suspect pervasive use of opioids throughout the game. What information they do have comes from mandated testing for minor leaguers, who lack union protection and therefore are subject to testing and discipline by the commissioner’s office. More than 78,000 tests have been conducted for minor league players, resulting in just 12 suspensions, per ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan.
Still, fentanyl is the leading cause of overdose deaths in the U.S., and the Skaggs autopsy provided an opportunity to be proactive. The rate and severity of injury puts players at risk for exposure through short-term surgical use, and most players certainly have the financial means to foster ongoing abuse should it become an issue. There is likely to be stronger solution in the new CBA, as leaving the safety of players to the discretion of team doctors is hardly the most comprehensive approach, not to mention the burden of responsibilities it places on the doctors themselves.