NEW YORK — More NFL players are testing positive for amphetamines, a class of substances that includes the ADHD drug Adderall.
Since the start of last season, more than 10 players suspended for failing drug tests have publicly blamed it on taking the stimulant. And while the league doesn't identify the substance when a player is penalized, senior vice president Adolpho Birch acknowledges that the number of positives for amphetamines has increased.
Because the type of drug isn't disclosed under the NFL's agreement with the union, nothing prevents a player from claiming he took Adderall when, in fact, he tested positive for a steroid or another stimulant. The tests don't differentiate between Adderall and other amphetamines, Birch said, but he does believe Adderall abuse is on the rise in the league.
With many college students using the drug without a prescription to study deep into the night, he said, players come into the NFL accustomed to the idea of popping the pill for a boost.
Players diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, can apply for a therapeutic use exemption that permits them to take Adderall. An independent administrator reviews their medical history and diagnostic tests to approve or reject the application.
Several players who have tested positive said they had a prescription for Adderall but not an exemption. New York Giants rookie safety Will Hill said in October before starting his four-game suspension that he didn't know when he received a prescription that Adderall was on the league's list of banned substances.
He appealed the suspension and lost.
Dr. Steven Pliszka, a psychiatry professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center, said about 4 percent of the general population has ADHD. The number could be even higher among professional athletes, he said, because some traits of the disorder may actually help them in sports.
But Birch said the percentage of NFL players with exemptions was, in fact, lower than the expected number for the general population. That's a significant difference from Major League Baseball, where more than 100 players have been granted exemptions in recent seasons.