How Often Do Professional Athletes Get Drug Tested?

The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) drug-tests American athletes to stop the intake of performance-enhancing drugs before participating in US athletic competitions.

All professional athletes in the United States—those competing in the National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Football League (NFL)—must undergo drug testing. Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) have programs requiring players to submit to drug tests.

The 5-panel drug test is a standard test used to drug test professional athletes. It screens for five drugs: cocaine, marijuana, opiates (codeine or morphine), amphetamines, and PCP. Let’s see how often these athletes are drug tested as per the policies.

Table of Contents:

  • Drug Testing Policy For Professional Athletes In The United States
  • When Does The National Hockey League (NHL) Drug Test Its Athletes?
  • When Does The National Football League (NFL) Drug Test Its Athletes?
  • When Does The National Basketball Association (NBA) Test Its Athletes?
  • When Does The Major League Baseball (MLB) Test Its Athletes?

Drug Testing Policy for Professional Athletes in the United States

The United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), the group that oversees drug testing for Olympic athletes, works with professional athletes from various sports to provide them with the most cutting-edge in doping prevention.

Athletes are subject to drug testing using a variety of techniques and methods. Most commonly, they use a five-panel drug test in the following sports: baseball, basketball, cycling, figure skating, football (American), gymnastics, handball, judo, luge, rugby union (rugby club), sailing (yachting), shooting (of wildfowl), track and field (track), and triathlon.

Although many professional athletes are subject to drug testing in the United States, there is no universal standard for drug testing for all athletes. Each sport’s governing body has its drug policies and procedures.

A few reasons for this are related to performance-enhancing drugs and privacy issues. A significant proportion of the athletes who are drug tested in America do not use performance-enhancing drugs to enhance their performance because they believe it will lead to relevation of their results. Some athletes prefer to take prescribed medication under the care of a physician because it is safer than illicit pharmaceutical drugs. Thus, they would not encounter a high risk of testing positive.

For years, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has recommended that an athlete’s prior use of substances be kept confidential. WADA also advises that results should be available only to authorized medical personnel and specific anti-doping organizations so that athletes do not face undue punishment for violations.

Before releasing any information to the public, an athlete is allowed to defend themselves. If a substance has been determined to be in excess, the authority must inform the athlete about all the facts that led to quantity determination.

As long as an athlete’s sample is collected reasonably and consistently, WADA recommends that athletes not be punished for any average amounts of substances they may have ingested.

When Does The National Hockey League (NHL) Drug Test Its Athletes?

The NHL has drug testing policies that are unique to its league. There are no rules against doping or performance-enhancing drugs. Still, the league’s Department of Player Safety has a mandatory independent review of all suspensions and fines imposed on players for drug violations.

There are no preseasons, in-season, or out-of-season testing periods. The NHL only conducts testing for players in the league’s substance abuse and behavioral health program. This program evaluates each player’s progress on these issues and provides counseling and treatment to those who are flagged.

National Hockey League Players consider steroids and performance-enhancing drugs the problem of other sports. As a result, they have been less aggressive in testing for these substances than other major sporting leagues.

When Does The National Football League (NFL) Test Its Athletes?

In the National Football League (NFL), players are tested for drugs yearly. Tests are led week by week during the preseason, regular season, and postseason, and a few times in the offseason with players who are coming back from injury.

Players are subject to a full spectrum of tests for performance-enhancing drugs and recreational drugs. NFL tests all its players for steroids and other illegal substances at random.

If a player is injured, he might be tested once or twice a month until his recovery to see whether he has returned to taking illegal drugs or not. This rule applies to all injured players. Before becoming a player for an NFL team, each of their players must sign a contract and complete extensive forms that detail the policies for testing.

If they are consuming illicit substances, they might face fines and suspensions. The suspension is usually a four-game suspension. The penalty is usually $50,000 for a first positive test, a six-game suspension and $50,000 fine for a second positive test, and at least a one-year suspension for a third positive test.

According to the NFL’s public relations office, NFL players go through a regressive system. But, as per WADA standards, they have the right to appeal their suspension to be tested again. The player can do this after he completes his suspension. This policy is based on the WADA’s standards and follows their rules.

When Does The National Basketball Association (NBA) Test Its Athletes?

The NBA has drug testing policies like the NFL’s. Each season, the NBA’s testing program tests more than 1,200 players.

The league has a zero-tolerance policy for drug use and is vigilant in testing its athletes. As per the NBA drug testing policy, rookies are drug tested up to four times per season; veterans are subject to one scheduled test during training camp.

It is mandatory for those suspended within the past year to be subject to drug testing at random times. The league tests its players for steroids, alcohol, marijuana, prescription medications, and recreational drugs.

NBA teams must have a drug prevention and program coordinator responsible for ensuring that all players are held to high standards.

An athlete’s positive drug test penalty is a 5-game suspension for a first-time offense, a 10-game suspension for a second offense, and a 25-game suspension for a third offense. Also, NBA added steroids to its banned substance list in 2000.

When Does The Major League Baseball (MLB) Test Its Athletes?

The Major League Baseball Players Association, 2012, randomly tested almost 2,200 players for performance-enhancing drugs. The MLB is trying to be as proactive as possible in its approach to the issue, with a new policy for obtaining evidence and a new criminal procedure code for cases of illegal performance-enhancing drugs entering the league.

The MLB also offers specific education for players about the dangers of using performance-enhancing drugs. The players are tested randomly once per year, during spring training or the regular season.

The penalty policy for banned substance use is a treatment program for a first positive test, 15 days suspension for the second positive test, a suspension of 25 days after the third positive test during that year, and a minimum of a 50-day suspension for the fourth positive test, and a one-year suspension for a fifth positive test.

Also, the MLB has a stricter policy on the use of stimulants. In 2002, MLB added amphetamines to their banned list.


There has been a dramatic rise in athletes taking recreational and performance-enhancing drugs. Many feel that it has become an epidemic. There is no doubt that performance-enhancing drugs have changed the way sports are played and that players are now willing to do anything to succeed in their sport.

This trend has led to a significant problem for many professional leagues. The NFL, NBA, and MLB have varying drug policies for their athletes and employers. These policies address when the league tests its athletes for illicit substances, what substances are considered banned, and how much an infraction warrants a discipline.

These leagues appear to be doing their part in addressing this growing problem. Thus, athletes must follow these policies and be held accountable for their actions.

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