Pittsburgh Pirates Pablo Reyes Fails Drug Test
On February 19, Pablo Reyes of the Pittsburgh Pirates was given an MLB PED suspension for 80 games following the result of a failed drug test. He tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug Boldenone, an androgen and anabolic steroid medication typically used on horses. Although Reyes’ suspension was itself newsworthy, it attracted even more attention because he was the second player in three days suspended for use of the same drug.
The first player suspended for Boldenone use was Houston Astros pitcher Francis Martes, who was removed from the MLB only two days earlier. Since Martes already had an earlier infraction, this brought his suspension up to 162 games. Neither player has made any public comment so far.
With so much scrutiny and so many standard drug tests, how did these players get caught up in doping? We’ll examine these players’ histories, as well as what standard drug tests MLB players can expect to see how they got into this situation.
Born in the Dominican Republic, Pablo Reyes first signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates as an international free agent in 2012. He played with a variety of minor league teams affiliated with the Pirates franchise for several years before being called up to the major leagues in 2018. He made the opening day roster in 2019 and had an encouraging first season before testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs this February.
Francis Martes was signed by the Miami Marlins as an international free agent in 2012, the same year as fellow Dominican Pablo Reyes. He was later traded to the Houston Astros and made his major league debut with them in 2017.
In 2018, his MLB season was marred by surgery. In March 2019, he tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs for the first time when league doctors found evidence of Clomiphene in his system. Clomiphene, which is typically prescribed by doctors as a fertility drug, has been used by some professional athletes to counteract the side effects of steroid use. These types of drugs are commonly referred to as steroid masking agents. Martes’ second positive test for performance-enhancing drugs was in February 2020, when he was suspended for 162 games.
MLB Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program
Any testing of Major League Baseball players must be done as part of their Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. The program, which was established in 2006, uses a variety of tests to detect the presence of both steroids (like Boldenone) and drugs of abuse, which includes recreational and party drugs as well as opioid painkillers.
Every player is tested for anabolic steroids with a urine test when they report to spring training. Players can also be asked to submit urine for a steroid test on any randomly selected date.
If a players’ urine test turns up evidence of steroid use, they are immediately placed on an 80-game suspension without pay. For a second offense, that penalty increases to a 162-game suspension, also without pay. A lifetime ban from the MLB follows a third positive test result.
Drugs of Abuse
Currently, Major League policy favors a treatment-based approach to dealing with players who test positive for drugs of abuse. Instead of a suspension, players will be dealt with confidentially, and are asked to comply with a treatment program that may include inpatient rehabilitation.
There is no random testing for drugs of abuse in MLB. Instead, the Health Policy Advisory Committee (HPAC) must prove that there is a reasonable cause to suspect that the player has used, sold, or possessed drugs of abuse within the past 12 months. Only after a majority of members of the HPAC vote to test the player can a drug test be administered.
Recent Updates to the MLB Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program
In late 2019, the MLB announced the most recent changes to their Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program. These included adding opioids, fentanyl, cocaine, and synthetic THC to their list of drugs of abuse and removing natural cannabinoids like those found in marijuana. This reflects changing laws in various states that have permitted the consumption of recreational marijuana.
The MLB has also introduced educational programs on the dangers of opioid addiction, which is mandatory for all players and club personnel going into the 2020-2021 season. This update is a thoughtful and progressive move in response to the death of Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs, who died of an opioid overdose in July 2019.
Hopefully, the MLB will continue to pursue a drug policy that punishes steroid users, while offering rehabilitation and education to players caught in the cycle of opioid and illegal drug abuse.