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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Adderall boost for athletes might be just a myth

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 11:28 AM
TAMPA -

As Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Aqib Talib can attest, the National Football League has shown little tolerance toward players who test positive for Adderall without proper documentation.

Now it's Talib's teammate, fellow cornerback Eric Wright, who is facing a possible suspension for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, according to Fox Sports reporter Jay Glazer.

After Talib was suspended four games without pay Oct. 13, he said he took an Adderall pill without a prescription at the beginning of training camp.

"Adderall is a stimulant,'' NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Monday, the day after Glazer's report on Wright surfaced. "It's been on the performance-enhancing list since 2006 and on the substance-abuse list prior to that. Players can receive a therapeutic use exemption with prior permission from a doctor.''

Earlier this year, several players who had been suspended for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy singled out Adderall as the culprit. Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden and safeties Will Hill and Tyler Sash of the New York Giants attributed their suspensions to Adderall.

Because of league confidentiality stipulations, the NFL does not identify the particular drug involved in issuing suspensions.

Adderall's ability to help focus and energize those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is seen as a way to get that elusive competitive edge sought by generations of overly ambitious athletes and academics.

"Adderall gives you the ability to concentrate better and longer,'' said former Buccaneers tight end Dave Moore, who now coaches football at Shorecrest Prep in St. Petersburg. "There are a lot of guys in the NFL who have gone through the proper channels who are playing while on Adderall. The bottom line in the pros is that there are always guys looking for an advantage and some guys will do what they can to get an edge. The key is whether they think it helps them compete during a game.''

The stimulant is thought to have a different chemical reaction for those who do not have ADHD.

Geeks see it as a way to maintain laser-sharp focus on exams and all-nighters. More recently, jocks from youth leagues on up to the pros have started to believe the amphetamine can give them an extra push in practice or in a game. Its popularity is behind bans by Major League Baseball and the National Football League.

However, there is no conclusive scientific evidence that the drug creates a legitimate surge for athletes, said Grant Garlick, a Tampa sports medicine specialist at Florida Orthopaedic Institute.

It simply offers an intense buzz, not unlike alcohol or cocaine.

"It's going to make the athlete feel like they are getting a better workout or a bigger push," said Garlick, who has worked with sports teams at the University of South Florida, the University of Tampa and Bloomingdale High School.

When used properly, Adderall can be a great help to children and adults. However, the Drug Enforcement Administration understands the addictive power of the abuse of Adderall and has labeled it a Class 2 controlled substance. Morphine, opium and cocaine fall into the same category.

About 5.4 million American children have been diagnosed with ADHD, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates. Symptoms include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior, and Adderall is one of the more popular treatments.

The Mayo Clinic estimates that two thirds of people diagnosed with the disorder as children continue to require treatment as adults. That could translate to millions of individuals needing medication long-term, and includes some professional athletes.

Both the MLB and NFL allow for "therapeutic use exemptions" for athletes legally prescribed Adderall or other ADHD stimulants such as Ritalin. About 100 professional baseball players last year had such an exemption.

On Monday, Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano said he cannot comment on any potential suspensions, citing NFL directives.

Talib is scheduled to return for the Nov. 11 home game against San Diego, but until Wright's situation is resolved, Adderall will continue to be a lingering issue at One Buc Place.

Garlick said it's important to know that abusing Adderall can increase the risk of cardiovascular complications. Like other amphetamines, the drug increases heart rate, Garlick said.

The Food and Drug Administration in 2007 first alerted the public about the drug's risks, National Institutes of Health reports show. The agency found that people taking Adderall who already had a heart condition were at a slightly higher risk for stroke, heart attack and sudden death. The FDA review also found a higher risk for medication-related psychiatric problems.

Garlick said the popularity of the drug will likely continue as athletes are "always looking for another angle to look better than the rest."

He points to the cocaine-related death of basketball player Len Bias in 1986 as a sign of what could happen to pros who look to a prescribed amphetamine to improve their game.

"It's just a matter of time," he said. "Eventually you will end up with a stroke or heart attack."


ikaufman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7833 mshedden@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7365

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