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The Growing Problem of Opioid Use in MLB

The opioid epidemic continues to produce staggering statistics, including that more than 10 million people in the United States misuse opioids each year.1 Among them is a growing number of professional baseball players. We explore why baseball substance abuse is occurring, and how opioid addiction can be overcome.

Why Are Baseball Players at Higher Risk of Opioid Addiction?

In addition to the risk factors faced by non-athletes who take opioids, professional baseball players also face other issues that only serve to further increase addiction risk. These include:

Demands of the Sport

MLB players are professional athletes. As such, they must adhere to hectic schedules over an average 25-week season.

This includes constant travel across time zones, as well as the expectation of being in top form on a nearly daily basis, all with sometimes very few opportunities to rest. Additionally, a player’s financial security post-baseball rests entirely on the ability to maintain their numbers. Therefore, an injured player may turn to opioids to help them mask their pain and achieve this goal.

Mental Disorders

The intense pressure associated with being an MLB player can result in the development of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression. Many players may turn to opioids and other substances to relieve the symptoms of these disorders. Unfortunately, the fact that opioids are highly addictive, even at low doses, can mean that an addiction develops quickly.

Use of opioids can also result in the development of these disorders. Over time, a player may increase opioid use to relieve the symptoms, only to develop an addiction.


On average, major league baseball players earn $4.17 million over a single season.2 This kind of sudden wealth with lack of financial management can raise a player’s risk of addiction. Many individuals incorrectly assume that because they earn a certain amount of money they can’t become addicted to a substance, or won’t develop an addiction.


The lifestyle of a professional athlete can be incredibly exciting, but also lonely and boring at times. Add to this that achieving celebrity status can get a player virtually anything they want, whenever they want, and the addiction risk factor is significantly increased.


The use of addictive substances in professional sports is nothing new; performance-enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids and opioids are commonly used substances which help these athletes mask their pain and achieve mental clarity and focus. This can make it seem as though drug use is not only expected but is an acceptable practice.

Famous MLB Players Who Have Fallen Victim to Opioid and Other Addictions

The most recent victim of opioid addiction was Tyler Skaggs, a 27-year-old pitcher for the Los Angeles Angels, who died in July 2019 due to asphyxiation and a combination of alcohol, oxycodone, and fentanyl.

Following Skaggs’s death, Los Angeles Angels Director of Communications Eric Kay revealed that he not only knew of Skaggs’ addiction to oxycontin, but admitted his own addiction to opioids, and that he’d purchased opioids for and used them with Skaggs multiple times.

Kay would go on to admit to DEA agents that he knew of at least five other players on the team who were misusing opioids.

Numerous other MLB players have experienced negative effects on their careers such as arrests and suspensions as a result of the misuse of substances. These include:

  • Miguel Cabrera, alcohol addiction
  • Mike Cameron, amphetamine misuse
  • Dale Berra, cocaine addiction
  • Ken Caminiti, alcohol and cocaine addiction
  • Enos Cabell, cocaine addiction
  • Alex Rodriguez, multiple performance-enhancing substances

What Is the MLB’s Current Drug Policy?

Five months after the death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs, MLB’s Chief Legal Officer Dan Halem made the official announcement that changes would be made to the league’s policies for drug testing and drug use, beginning in 2020’s spring training season.

Among the changes to the policy was the addition of opioids to the list of banned substances, as well as the removal of marijuana for players in minor leagues. It was also announced that testing for drugs of abuse including opioids would occur.

Should a player test positive for opioids, they would be sent for initial evaluation to the MLB’s joint drug treatment board, and a personalized drug prevention and treatment program formulated for them.

Education was another new addition to the MLB drug policy, with the announcement that all teams and their players must participate in mandatory educational programs on the dangers of opioid pain medications and their abuse.

Getting Help for Opioid Addiction

The chronic use of opioids to maintain performance can have many negative health consequences, including permanent brain damage, confusion, and significant risk of heart attack, as well as intense and dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

If you are a professional baseball player who has received a positive test for opioids and is struggling with opioid addiction, treatment is available from Adelante Recovery Center.

From Detox to Holistic Treatment

Our medical detox program ensures the safe management of withdrawal symptoms by nurses and physicians who use the latest medical techniques.

Beyond this stage, we offer a variety of recovery treatment options that include one-on-one counseling, 12-step therapy, and group counseling. These provide you with the tools you need to prevent relapse and return to the healthy and active life you enjoy.

Our inpatient treatment provides you with a peaceful and luxurious setting in which to focus on your recovery. If you are ready to break the cycle of opioid addiction, Adelante Recovery Center is here to assist you. Call to speak with one of our addiction specialists at (949) 427-9099.


  1. https://drugabusestatistics.org/opioid-epidemic/
  2. https://www.espn.com/mlb/story/_/id/31270164/average-mlb-salary-417-million-48-2019

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If you or a loved one are in need of help with addiction, contact us today. Our professional and friendly addiction specialists are able to answer your questions and get things moving in the right direction.