Spikes suspension reveals more holes in NFL's drug policy

The New England Patriots may be the best team in football right now, but they're going to be without the services of one of their best young defenders through the end of the regular season. Rookie linebacker Brandon Spikes(notes), who the Pats selected in the second round of the draft, was suspended four games by the NFL for a violation of the league's substance abuse policy. The announcement was made on Friday, though Spikes was not at practice on Thursday, and speculation at that time was that his absence was not injury-related.

The suspension will cost Spikes his final four regular-season games, but he will be available for the playoffs. It's a big blow for the team - the Florida alum has provided a dynamic interior defensive presence, amassing more than 10 tackles in a game on four different occasions and ranking fourth on the team in total tackles with 61.

Per the team's Twitter account, Spikes released this statement.

I've been contacted by the NFL and informed that I will be suspended four games for the detection of an illegal substance in a drug test. The substance was a medication that I should have gotten clarification on before taking. It was not a performance enhancer or an illegal drug. The integrity of the game is very important to me. I understand the league's ruling and apologize to my teammates, the fans and the Patriots organization for this mistake.

The Patriots replaced Spikes on the current roster with defensive back Chevis Jackson(notes).

If a report by Tom E. Curran of CSNNE.com is true, Spikes tested positive for the amphetamines contained in Adderall, a drug that combats Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Available in instant- and extended-release versions, Adderall is a highly addictive drug with stimulant effects that is often used for the treatment of ADHD and narcolepsy. Under the Controlled Substances Act, Adderall is a Schedule II drug due to its addictive potential.

It's obviously a serious issue, but even if Spikes didn't get clarification on the possible ramifications of the drug, this seems to be yet another example of the league expecting its players to do all the homework on the medications they take, only to get snapped for an inevitable lack of knowledge about those medications down the road, Spikes should not have to get clarification for something that's most likely prescribed of it's being used in the way we're assuming it is; the NFL should be asking him if he's taking anything by the order of a medical professional, and telling him what he might test for as a result.

In a way, this hearkens back to the StarCaps case, when the NFL told players that if they put any sort of substance in their bodies, they did so at their own risk. Playerrs, as a result, were left with seemingly infinite legal loopholes. As it did then, the NFL's scattershot policy on informing and counseling players about specific drug use seems to be more a way to jump out of the shadows and yell, "Gotcha!" whenever a kid is unlucky enough to fall on the wrong side of the chemical equation.

The league must obviously be very concerned about the use of steroids and other performance enhancers, but if Spikes is taking Adderall for a condition because a doctor told him to, it's hard to see how that punishment benefits anybody. Spikes loses four games because he's trying to help himself and improve his life. The Patriots are short a defender for no good reason. And the NFL has proven, once again, that it does not have the right kind of system in place when it comes to the many and varied issues that can arise from PED use of any sort. In short, the NFL can't be trusted by its own players -- that's a bad place to start.

It's also true that some players use Adderall outside a doctor's care for the stimulant benefits, and that's an entirely different story. But Spikes provides a valuable hypothetical example - if a player is prescribed a particular medication by a medical professional because of a physical or emotional need, and that player doesn't know his drug will get him suspended, how can he not be given a retroactive pass if he has (so to speak) a doctor's note?

The other side of the Adderall story, and what may make the Spikes case (or other cases) more complicated is that the drug has become all the rage in Major League Baseball. A recent report by the New York Daily News said that thirteen players have tested positive for Adderall in the last year, and another 105 have been given ADD exemptions, preventing them from being suspended for specific Adderall use. Over the last three years, approximately 10 percent of all major league players have received these kinds of exemptions because they have been given prescriptions for Adderall by doctors.

Whether these are legitimate cases, or "Dr. Nick" stories waiting to happen, is an important question. But in the meantime, Spikes' representatives, and the NFLPA, may want to look into how this is being handled in pro football. If a sport overseen by Bud Selig has a better exemptive drug policy than your sport does, it's time to take a good hard look at how you do things.

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