For those diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Adderall can be essential to daily life, providing much-needed calmness and focus.
But the prescription stimulant drug is often abused, and not just by college students for late-night study sessions.
Adderall has been used by athletes as a performance enhancer for an energy boost or a spike in concentration. The controlled substance is illegal without a prescription, and banned by most sports organizations, including the NCAA, National Football League and Major League Baseball, unless athletes have permission for medical or therapeutic use. In MLB, 105 players were granted such exemptions for ADHD in 2011. Adderall is affecting the Bucs, with cornerback Aqib Talib suspended four games for violating league policy on performance enhancing drugs. Talib said in a statement he took one pill of Adderall without a prescription before training camp in August.
Doctors say Adderall poses potentially dangerous health risks that can outweigh the positives for those without a medical need. But that doesn't stop athletes trying to get an edge.
Talib is one of about half a dozen NFL players in the past couple of years suspended for using Adderall, including former Gators star and Browns cornerback Joe Haden, Packers defensive tackle Mike Neal and Giants safety Tyler Sash. NASCAR driver AJ Allmendinger was caught using the ADHD med, and Rays minor-league infielder Ryan Brett said his 50-game suspension this year was triggered by a one-time use of Adderall that he thought was an energy pill.
"It's a favorite of athletes because it works pretty well," said Don Catlin, a pioneer of the anti-doping movement who founded the group Anti Doping Research. "It's a strong stimulant and that means it enhances performance, usually of the type of performance that has to do with speed, running, or swimming. … It's like drinking 10 cups of coffee all in one sitting over an hour or two; you get really hyped up."
Catlin says the use of amphetamines, like Adderall, is nothing new in professional sports. But he acknowledged that, with leagues not typically divulging specifics, Adderall can be popularly cited by athletes because it's more accepted due to its medical uses. Plus, Catlin says, Adderall doesn't stay in the system long.
"Athletes would like it because they can take it today, and might have a negative urine test tomorrow," he said.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Adderall has been listed as a performance enhancer since 2006, but banned before that; players must have a valid prescription, and tell the league. Players are tested for prohibited substances at least once per league year, typically at training camp or when they report. Plus 10 players on every team are tested randomly each week, and players can be tested up to six times during the offseason.
In MLB, stimulants became part of the drug program in 2006, with amphetamines banned in the minor leagues since 2001.
Jay Clugston, team physician for several University of Florida teams, said several players from each of his sports use Adderall for ADHD. He said athletes are properly screened and tested before getting it prescribed, and are monitored monthly to make sure they take Adderall correctly. All players must sign a contract and are warned about sharing the pills with fellow students and players, as well as health risks.
Dr. Eric Coris, professor of family and sports medicine at USF, said for anyone pre-disposed to heat-related illness and cardiac problems, Adderall — which impacts the chemicals in the brain and nerves — makes those dangers worse.
"Especially when you look at (the) No. 1 cause of death in an athlete being a heart problem, taking a stimulant is going to increase your risk of that across the board," Coris said. "In people that don't have ADHD, it probably makes them more restless, more jittery, so it can be a significant negative."
Coris said there has been an "explosion" of ADHD diagnoses, partly from increased awareness. He believes it can be overdiagnosed; the FDA has included Adderall on its official shortages list. There also are issues of prescription diversion, where those diagnosed sell Adderall, and improper use such as crushing pills into powder and snorting.
People possessing Adderall without a prescription can be subject to arrest, according to Debbie Carter with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
"It's unfortunate we've got a lot of bad (examples) of pro athletes trying to do anything they can to get that edge, and unfortunate that trickles down to the more amateur levels," Coris said. "People are willing to take bad risks to perform well."
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected]