Is Adderall Abuse Changing the Face of the NFL for Good?

Adderall abuse is rampant in the NFL these days.
Adderall abuse is rampant in the NFL these days.

By Julie Wilkins

There’s no getting away from the fact that drug abuse is something which seems to be creeping much more into sport in general, and not just the National Football League, in recent years. Stories of players being suspended for taking banned for illegal substances appear to be becoming more and more prevalent. However, within the realm of the NFL there seems to be one drug in particular cropping up with alarming regularity for players and that is Adderall.

The question is whether this drug and its abuse will change the face of the game for good or not.

Adderall abuse in NFL
The roots of this drug within pro football are not recent by any stretch of the imagination. As far back as 2006 there were reports of players taking it to try and give themselves a boost, to give them focus and make sure they were in the zone for games. The drug typically is prescribed for people who suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) as a way of giving them a focus and perspective and to help calm them down so they can carry out their every day tasks without disruption. However, in people who take it without suffering from ADHD it acts in the opposite way as a strong stimulant. In fact, it is classified as an amphetamine.

Players within the NFL started to pick up on this and began to take it whether they needed it or not. This has led, over the last few years, to more and more failed drug tests, suspensions and players having to seek substance abuse assistance to help them become clean and able to play again. On the surface, the problem seems to be getting worse. Figures for last season show that there had been a 75 percent increase in the number of players testing positive for the drug, with 21 NFL stars suspended for detection of drugs in their blood and/or urine samples. This makes it, according to statistics, the highest number of suspensions since drug testing began in the sport in 1989.

Players suspended for Adderall abuse
Although the NFL is banned from mentioning the types of substances for which suspended players have tested positive, it is thought that in the last year at least seven have given blood or urine samples containing traces of Adderall or other  banned amphetamines and performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). Some media outlets have gone so far as to name and shame players with the most prominent examples being New England Patriots defensive lineman Jermaine Cunningham and Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Eric Wright.

Cunningham had enjoyed a very successful period as a player and his coach, Bill Belichick, had spoken highly of his achievements and what was expected of him over the following 12 months. However, during 2012 he played in just nine games and ended up with a hamstring injury before his eventual positive drug test and suspension.

Many more names
According to other press reports, Seattle Seahawks teammates Allen Barbre, Winston Guy, Brandon Browner and John Moffitt also have tested positive for banned substances (again, possibly Adderall) and have received four-game  suspensions each. Moffitt as good as admitted he had taken the substance when he commented that he had had no idea it was banned at the time of his test. This has led to the unfortunate coining of the nickname Sea-Adderall Seahawks for the team. Glib humor indeed, but nothing to really smile of, laugh or be proud about. It isn’t just purely down to one team, however.

According to Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman, “half the league uses Adderall.” He did fail to state whether all the people taking it were doing so for legal or illegal purposes, but even so, it seems a sorry state of affairs. Sherman himself  had his own positive drugs test with suspension following, but managed to get this overturned on a legal technicality which meant the results of his sample were not at all reliable and therefore could not be used against him.

Is this the whole truth?
However, there is one caveat in this story and that relates back to the fact that the NFL cannot, by law, mention the substance for which a player has tested positive. Therefore, when players are suspended or banned they can, if they choose, quite simply lie about what it was they took.

There are suspicions that many players are possibly laying the blame at Adderall’s door when in fact they were taking other drugs, such as steroids. This may account for the sudden spike in the numbers of players allegedly testing positive for the drug and being taken out of the game. It could, however, also be quite true, that there are simply more players relying on this drug to get them through games. One thing is for certain and that is that it looks like there may be many more problems ahead with this drug and we haven’t heard the last of it yet.