When you think “performance-enhancing drugs” in sports, Adderall might not be the first drug that comes to mind.
But after the late-November reveal that more and more players in the National Football League (NFL) are testing positive for amphetamines, questions arose as to the attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) drug’s prevalence in professional sports.
One Slate magazine article cited ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio when it called the NFL’s Adderall “problem” a non-issue. Under the banner “The performance-enhancing drug that doesn’t enhance performance,” Florio asked:
Adderall? Why would professional athletes take that? Never mind that athletes have been taking chemically similar greenies for decades.
University of Minnesota professor in the Department of Medicinal Chemistry, David Ferguson, Ph.D., attests that it is, in fact, easy to see why a professional athlete would take an amphetamine like Adderall.
“Amphetamines like Adderall are stimulants,” said Ferguson. “They boost focus and concentration, keep levels of alertness and energy up and help you feel good as you accomplish things.”
Because of that, Ferguson holds that, “Using an amphetamine is cheating.”
Given the prevalence of Adderall’s use in other non-prescription, youth-based settings, i.e. “study-drug” settings on high school and college campuses, it would be unsurprising if Adderall truly had made its way into professional sports. Athletes might use the study-drug to boost academic performance, field performance, or both.
Other news sources including CBS questioned whether the discovered substance was Adderall at all:
Former NFL defensive end Ryan Riddle said he thinks that Adderall is being used as a cover-up by players caught using other performance-enhancing drugs, calling it a “PR excuse.”
PR excuse or not, according to Ferguson the level of an illicit compound present in an athlete’s body can reveal the quantity and type of the performance-enhancer in question.
Under current regulations, the NFL does not make this kind of information public. Unnamed sources are credited with information leaks tying Seattle Seahawks’ starting cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman suspensions to Adderall.
Past reports of Adderall to the suspensions of Packers defensive tackle Mike Neal and Giants safety Tyler Sash in October suggest amphetamines are gaining ground in the NFL.
“Making drug test results, including levels of the substance discovered, more public might make it easier to understand just how serious the problem actually is or isn’t,” said Ferguson. “It would take a lot of the guess work out.”
Adderall, like many other drugs, is addictive. Ferguson thinks that a look at whether NFL players continue using amphetamines in the off-season or after their NFL career ends might provide an interesting look at amphetamine’s overarching impact.
Are these players getting “amped up” now, only to find themselves addicted later?
That remains to be seen. Stay tuned.