MLB, union agree to testing for opioids after Skaggs' death

Major League Baseball will start testing for opioids and cocaine

SAN DIEGO -- Major League Baseball will start testing for opioids and cocaine, but only players who do not cooperate with their treatment plans will be subject to discipline.

Opioids are classified as a drug of abuse under the joint big league program, which began in late 2002 and until now has limited testing to performance-enhancing substances and banned stimulants.

Talks to add testing for opioids began following the death of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who was found dead in his hotel room in the Dallas area July 1 before the start of a series against the Texas. A medical examiner's office said the 27-year-old died after choking on his vomit with a toxic mix of alcohol and the painkillers fentanyl and oxycodone in his body.

“Players from our side of the equation recognize that there was an opportunity to take a leadership role here in this discussion," union head Tony Clark said. “Players aren't immune to issues that affect all of us, and so the situation this year only heightened that, brought it even closer to home."

Clark said the extent of opioids use among players is “difficult to gauge" and the union concluded there “wasn't necessarily a need to take a census as much as there was taking a leadership role in the conversation."

“I’m just thankful that the players union and MLB were able to address a serious issue in our nation that doesn’t have any boundaries and crosses lines into sport and work together for the betterment of our players," Angels general manager Billy Eppler said. “It shows a lot of human touch on the powers that be and I’m thankful for it.”

Under the changes, MLB will test for opioids, Fentanyl, cocaine, and synthetic Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Players who test positive will be referred to the treatment board established under the agreement.

Players and team staff will have to attend mandatory educational programs in 2020 and 2021 on the dangers of opioid pain medications and practical approaches to marijuana.

Moves by some states to legalize marijuana use factored into the change.

“It was a part of a larger conversation that was reflective of the attitudes changing in many parts of the country," Clark said.

Players subject to the minor league testing program, who are not on 40-man rosters and not covered by the union, were suspended until now for a second or subsequent positive marijuana test. Halem said the big league and minor league programs will treat marijuana use the same way going forward.

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AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report.

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