Major League Baseball announced changes to its drug use and testing policies on Thursday, removing marijuana from its "drugs of abuse" while announcing mandatory tests for cocaine and opioids. The policy will be effective starting in 2020 during spring training.
Players who test positive for prohibited substances, which include fentanyl and LSD, will be evaluated and prescribed a treatment plan. Those who don't obey the league's plan may be punished.
MLB officials said changes to the policy were agreed to by the Players Association and were made to protect athletes from lethal and addictive substances.
"The opioid epidemic in our country is an issue of significant concern to Major League Baseball," said league Chief Legal Officer Dan Halem. "It is our hope that this agreement - which is based on principles of prevention, treatment, awareness and education - will help protect the health and safety of our Players."
Preventing opioid abuse will extend past disciplinary programs. The league will require all players and team staff to take classes on the "dangers of opioid pain medications and practical approaches to marijuana" during the next two seasons.
Meanwhile, marijuana use will now be treated the same as alcohol. Players caught using cannabis will be referred to a treatment board under specific conditions. Athletes cannot be punished for failing to participate in a treatment program.
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy praised the policy change, saying it could save lives.
"Millions of Americans struggle with substance misuse and need help," ONDCP Director Jim Carroll said in MLB's press release. "We applaud the efforts of both Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association to prioritize treatment over punishment."
These changes follow the July 1 death of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, whose autopsy revealed the presence of opioids and alcohol in his body. The medical examiner said Skaggs choked on his vomit while under the influence of "alcohol, fentanyl and oxycodone intoxication."
Discussing the new policy Thursday, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred called Skaggs' death devastating.
"I think you saw it in terms of the reaction following that terrible event," Manfred said. "I think that it was a motivating factor in the commissioner's office and the MLBPA getting together and addressing in the context of our industry what is really a societal problem in terms of opioids."
Paolo Zialcita is an intern on NPR's News Desk.