Say it isn't so, Joe … Haden.


Wouldn’t it be nice, Cleveland fans, if for just one season, something crazy didn’t happen before the season officially opens?  Just once?  But alas, it’s not to be as Browns fans got the news yesterday that Joe Haden has failed a drug test and is facing a possible four game suspension by the NFL.  Reportedly, the offending substance is Adderall, a drug commonly taken to control ADHD and narcolepsy.

As I am writing this, no statement has been made by the Browns’ front office or Haden’s agent but there has been enough information in the last 24 hours to make Cleveland fans extremely nervous about the possibility of their beloved Haden having to sit out a four game suspension. Giving credit where credit is due, the possibility of Haden’s suspension was first reported on Twitter almost a week ago, before the main stream media actually latched on to the story.  It was quickly swept under the carpet by many Tweeps (myself included) but here we are a few days later knowing that the story, does in fact have credible legs. I am unsure of the origination of the initial report but, whoever you are, I know you broke it first.  So I’m here, out of More Than a Fan retirement, to help you get the real facts about drug testing and what it all means.

I know that makes you all very, very excited that I’m actually still alive.  (Just go with it, o.k.?)

Just as I wrote with the Ryan Braun story, I’m going to start by cautioning everyone to stop speculating and let the story unfold.  Right now, there are a lot of inaccuracies being reported by a lot of people that do not have a lot of knowledge about drug testing or the procedures involved.  Things will become much clearer when the Browns and/or Haden’s agent make an official statement. As Braun did, I am sure that Haden will appeal the ruling and he’ll have his day before the mediators as well. In the meantime, let’s take a look at the inaccuracies so you have a better idea of what may or may not happen.

First,  let me qualify myself a little bit.  Drug and alcohol testing is something that I deal with everyday because it’s my job. For over 20 years, I have worked in the field of occupational health and safety. While I mainly work more on the workers’ compensation side of things, I own a company that develops drug free workplace programs for employers and still teach classes for employees and supervisors often.  I am not going to give you a total run down of my qualifications on the subject – you can email me if you really need hard details – but let’s, for the sake of brevity, just say that I know a lot more about drug and alcohol testing and how it all works than the average Joe.

No pun intended, Joe Haden. (O.k…..maybe a little bit.)

This is not the first time that an NFL player has come back positive for Adderall.  In fact, Tyler Sash of the New York Giants was suspended a few days ago for the exact same substance. In a statement, Sash said that he was taking the drug legally under a doctor’s care for treatment of an anxiety issue.  That’s all well and good until one reads the NFL Drug and Alcohol testing policy and finds this provision:

 Abuse of prescription drugs is defined as either:

a.  the use of a prescription drug without a prescription issued to the player by a licensed healthcare provider; or

b. the use of a prescription drug issued to the player by a licensed healthcare provider more than thirty (30) days after the expiration date of the prescription.

Abuse of over-the-counter drugs is defined as the use of an over-the-counter drug in disregard for the directions for use.

In employment testing for you and I, when a positive drug test hits the desk of the Medical Review Officer, the first thing that the MRO does is call the donor, inform him/her of the positive and ask for an explanation. In the case of a prescription drug, the MRO will ask the name of the physician that prescribed the drug and call to his/her office to confirm that there was, in fact, a prescription given.  When it has been confirmed, the test is reported as negative to your employer.  There is no provision in employment testing that states that an employee is positive if he/she takes the drug for more than 30 days.  But there is in the NFL which may explain why Tyler Sash has been suspended despite his statement about being under the care of a licensed physician.

I have also read a few reports that state that a player, who has been prescribed a drug specifically on the banned list, must submit that information to the league office and obtain a waiver.  This may or may not be true because, in reading the NFL drug and alcohol testing policy, I found no such provision.   That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It just may be in other sections of the player’s collective bargaining agreement that were not available to me. Such a provision was a piece of amateur testing for a long time and, while I am unsure if it still applies in amateur testing, it’s definitely not out of the question that the NFL may have the same type of policy. So, let’s pretend for a minute that when an NFL player is prescribed a banned substance that he can submit the information to the NFL and obtain a waiver.  If that was the case with either Sash or Haden and they had obtained the waiver as required, there would be no talk about suspensions and Browns fans wouldn’t be wringing their hands over the four game loss of Joe Haden.  We wouldn’t even know about it.

The fact that we do know about the alleged positive screams to me that there was some other violation of the substance abuse policy. It seems more likely that the violation will turn out to be that the drug was taken for more than 30 days after it was prescribed or it was obtained and taken without a physician’s prescription. Both are clear violations of the NFL substance abuse policy.  Unless Haden can argue the validity of the test, much as Braun successfully did, Browns fans are probably going to have to watch the Browns play without the services of Joe Haden for at least four games.

Time will tell.


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