Pistorese a victim of flawed drug program?

The suspensions happen several times a year. Most of the time very few pay attention to them, because they are minor leaguers, often not big-time prospects and just as often have yet to play above the Class-A level. Seattle Mariners left-hander Joseph Pistorese isn’t alone, but the former Washington State Cougars pitcher who was the Mariners’ 17th-round pick in this year’s draft serves as an example. Just not the kind Major League Baseball and the players union should be setting. It may not be the kind of example either side intended to encounter, either.

Pistorese was suspended for 50 games earlier this week after testing positive for a banned substance under the Minor League Baseball drug prevention and treatment program, basically an extension of the MLB version. Reports have it as an amphetamine, which in the end is a very general description. According to sources, however, Pistorese tested positive as a result of medication he takes for Attention Deficit Disorder, or ADD. He appealed the suspension, eventually losing and hence the announcement. I don’t know what Pistorese’s exact circumstances are. If he was diagnosed and prescribed the medication by a doctor, this is a huge problem for baseball that needs to be fixed.

Amphetamines are schedule II controlled stimulants used to treat various ailments and conditions, most commonly ADD. Major League Baseball’s agreement with the player’s association lists “amphetamines” as a banned substance in Part B of Section 2 in the MiLB edition of the agreement. Literally, it simply lists “amphetamine” as No. 4 of 56 total banned “Stimulants.” There’s no portion of the agreement for exemptions for those that have legitimate requirements for an amphetamine, which is extremely short-sighted since more than 11 percent of our country’s youth has been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, and only the ignorant believe it’s a ‘kid’s disease.’

The only way for Pistorese to avoid testing positive would have been to stop taking his medication. That hardly seems like the ideal solution, even though the list of banned substances is clear and takes 30 seconds to double-check. This is something each organization should be heavily involved in when they acquire a new player via the amateur route.

The system needs to be adjusted to steer clear of these kinds of situations. The answer likely is having each player that requires such medication to be “officially” diagnosed so he can receive an exemption. It’ll never be perfect, but it’s probably in the best interest of both the league and the players to leave open a slight chance someone sneaks through, rather than punishing those with a legitimate diagnosis and need.

EDIT: Courtesy @npthree via TWitter, the MLB/MLBPA joint agreement indeed has a theraputic use exemption clause. If and/or how that applies to the Minor League Baseball Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, I don’t know.

Pistorese has been terrific in relief for the Everett AquaSox this season, flashing a fastball in the 89-91 mph range, up to 92, and a plus curveball. He’ll miss the rest of this season and since it’s basically over, Pistorese’s suspension carries over into 2016.

And if that wasn’t enough, here’s a catch. The program requires follow-up testing; For players on the 40-man roster it’s six unannounced urine collections and three unannounced blood collections over the 12 months following the positive test, not to mention the same number of tests each year the player is on a 40-man roster for the rest of his career. Pistorese is not on the 40-man, but the number of follow-ups will be determined by the Minor League Health Policy Advisory Committee. Could be once a week, both tests, could be once a month. Might be forever, too.

Pistorese isn’t magically going to be cured of ADD between now and his next test, which could be in September, October, January, or all of the above. I’m not sure how this gets reconciled for anyone in Pistorese’s position. Unless the program changes or he stops taking medication he needs he’ll fail any and all ensuing tests, and the suspension length grows until he’s banned from the game for life. Essentially mandating players halt taking doctor-prescribed medications or be suspended is an archaic product. The program agreements for both Major League Baseball the Minor League Baseball are subject to yearly reviews.

If the player in this case didn’t take the right path to attempt to get the exemption if it is available, it’s tough to feel too sorry for him, as would be the case if he was simply trying to gain an edge and doesn’t have a condition that requires the medication. I’m told the latter is not the case.

If the exemption is available to minor league players, too, and Pistorese indeed has been diagnosed and prescribed the medication, the breakdown took place somewhere else and the blame lies elsewhere, such as the organization or even the player himself or his agent.

Legitimate diagnoses and prescription use of medication to treat a condition such as ADD or ADHD never should result in a player being suspended.

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Jason A. Churchill

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