Does baseball have a problem with attention deficit disorder?

January 12, 2009

Back when I was an earnest high school student, there were kids in my class who'd offer $5 or $10 a pill to fellow classmates with Ritalin prescriptions.

As someone who paid strict attention to his Popeye PSAs and his local Officer Friendly, I never quite understood why they did this, even when a few informed me with glassy eyes that it helped get them through the day. Meanwhile, it was clear they shouldn't have been popping 'em.

Where am I going with all of this? Honestly, I don't have much of an idea other than my past experience is the first thing I thought of when I heard that almost 8 percent of MLB players were given exemptions in '08 to use the drugs that treat ADHD.

Like almost anything else related to attention deficit issues, that seemingly high number is attracting plenty of controversy with one doctor even suggesting that ADHD drugs are baseball's new greenies.

From the Associated Press:

"This is incredible. This is quite spectacular. There seems to be an epidemic of ADD in major league baseball," said Dr. Gary Wadler, chairman of the committee that determines the banned-substances list for the World Anti-Doping Agency.

"I've been in private practice for a lot of years. I can count on one hand the number of individuals that have ADD," he said. "To say that (7.86 percent) of major league baseball players have attention deficit disorder is crying out of an explanation. It is to me as an internist so off the map of my own experience."

So are baseballers abusing ADHD drugs just like my old classmates? It would seem that way, at least if you consider that only 3 to 5 percent of children are estimated to have attention deficit disorders by the National Institute of Mental Health.

However, Rob Manfred, baseball's executive VP of labor relations, says you can't compare baseball's number to the general statistics since everyone in MLB is male (men are said to be more prone than women) and have access to the best medical care.

To be clear, this is not a new revelation, only an increase*. In 2007, 103 players were given the exemption for ADHD drugs. Now it's up to 106.

But what my question is to you: Should MLB look further into possible abuse?

*I should also add that I'm not insinuating these players are obtaining these drugs through my old high school classmates, though I suppose many of those guys still have the goods if you're interested.