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MLB will begin testing for opioids following the death of pitcher Tyler Skaggs

Angels pitcher died of accidental overdose

Major League Baseball is making major updates to its drug testing policies. The league announced Thursday it will starting testing for opioids and cocaine, but has removed marijuana from its list of banned substances. 

Until now, tests have been limited to performance-enhancing substances and banned stimulants. The new program calls for treatment, rather than suspension, for players who test positive for banned substances, MLB and the player's association said

Under the new changes, MLB will test for opioids, Fentanyl, cocaine and synthetic Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Players who test positive will be referred to a treatment board, and subject to discipline if they fail to cooperate with their evaluation and treatment plan. 

The changes come months after the July death of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs. A toxicology report revealed the 27-year-old had a mix of alcohol, fentanyl and oxycodone in his body when he died. 

"Players are overwhelmingly in favor of expanding our drug-testing regimen to include opioids, and want to take a leadership role in helping to resolve this national epidemic," Tony Clark, executive director of the MLBPA, said in a statement. 

"I'm just thankful that the players union and MLB were able to address a serious issue in our nation that doesn't have any boundaries and crosses lines into sport and work together for the betterment of our players," Angels general manager Billy Eppler told The Associated Press. "It shows a lot of human touch on the powers that be and I'm thankful for it."

Under the new changes, natural cannabinoids (THC, CBD and marijuana) will no longer be considered drugs of abuse. Like alcohol, those who test positive will face mandatory evaluation, voluntary treatment and the possibility of discipline. 

Additionally, all players must attend educational programs on the dangers of opioid medications and practical approaches to marijuana in 2020 and 2021. "These educational programs will focus on evidence-based and health-first approaches based on reputable science and sound principles of public health and safety," the associations said. 

"It is our collective hope that this agreement will help raise public awareness on the risks and dangers of opioid medications and contribute positively to a national conversation about this important topic," said MLB deputy commissioner and chief legal officer Dan Halem.

The new policy will be implemented from spring training next year. 

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