NFL toughens drug policy


NFL players will face random testing and stiffer penalties for amphetamine use as the result of a change in league policy that now places the drug in the category of performance-enhancers, such as steroids.

Previously, the NFL categorized amphetamines as a "substance-abuse drug." Drugs in that group pose personal medical concerns, a league spokesman said, but are usually not considered substances that can give a player an edge on the field.

Use of drugs on the performance-enhancer list is scrutinized more closely with league-wide random testing and punishment is swifter.

The league and the NFL Players Association agreed on the amphetamine change as part of a new collective bargaining agreement in the offseason. Last year, congressional hearings were held on drug use in sports.

"We never looked at [amphetamines] as a competitive issue for our players, like steroids and other things, but realized the possibility that some players would use it for a game-day edge," said Harold Henderson, NFL executive vice president of labor relations. "The [players] union quickly agreed with us."

Full enforcement of amphetamines as a performance-enhancer will begin in 2007 with random testing. Starting that year, a first positive test for amphetamines will result in a four-game suspension.

In addition, a second positive test for performance-enhancing drugs will be upped to an eight-game suspension, an increase of two games. A third positive test will remain a one-year suspension.

However, 2006 is being treated as a transitional year for amphetamines during which a first positive test will make a player eligible only for reasonable-cause testing.

As a substance-abuse drug - which includes substances often described as recreational drugs - amphetamines were in a category where testing is annual, unless a player had already tested positive and was subject to more frequent checks. A player is not suspended for using drugs in that group until the third violation.

Punishment for performance-enhancers is greater, in part, because their use is considered cheating with the consequence of potentially encouraging other players to also use them to remain competitive.

Amphetamines are a stimulant that can give the user a heightened sense of energy and ability. But negative effects range from depression to psychotic behavior and brain damage, and the drug can be addictive.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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