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MLB, MLBPA in talks to create a treatment program, not punishment, for opioid use

MLB: FEB 19 Los Angeles Angels Photo Day

TEMPE, AZ - FEBRUARY 19: Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs (45) poses for a portrait during the Los Angeles Angels photo day on Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019 at Tempe Diablo Stadium in Tempe, Ariz. (Photo by Ric Tapia/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Back in October it was revealed that Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs’ death was attributable to an opioid overdose. In the wake of that report, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association began discussions about the creation of a testing regime for opioids.

At the time this was met with some skepticism, because drug testing in professional sports has tended to focus on punishment and suspensions, and such things would likely discourage addicts from seeking the help they need rather than encourage it.

Yesterday, however, MLBPA executive director Tony Clark spoke to the press and said that MLB and the union were on the verge of an agreement that would put those concerns to rest:

Players who test positive for opioids would enter treatment and not be suspended under the change to Major League Baseball’s drug agreement being negotiated by management and the players’ association, according to union head Tony Clark.

. . . “We believe wholeheartedly, as we always have, that the treatment option and not discipline is the best route to go,” Clark said Wednesday as the union’s executive board finished its annual meeting.

Good to hear.

Not that all the work to be done on this matter requires a new agreement.

As we’ve discussed at length, Skaggs’ opioid use was well-known by many people in the game, including at least one high-ranking front office employee of the Angels. Per the current Joint Drug Agreement, team and league officials have an affirmative duty to report a players’ drug use to the league, which would then get him into a treatment program. The club failed in its duties in this regard. If it hadn’t — if the system in place had been adhered to — there is a chance that Skaggs could’ve gotten the help that could’ve saved his life. As such, there needs to be more education about such things for team employees.

In the meantime, however, a drug testing regime aimed at treatment -- and a treatment program aimed at treating the addiction, not at just getting the addict back on the field -- is welcome.

Follow @craigcalcaterra