Tyler Skaggs' death revisited as MLB partners with White House to reduce opioid overdoses

It’s been nearly five years since Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs died of an accidental overdose of oxycodone pills laced with fentanyl in a Texas hotel room. Yet the impact of the tragedy and revelations during the ensuing trial of Angels employee Eric Kay that Skaggs and several other players were supplied with opioids is still being felt.

Major League Baseball announced this week that its emergency medical procedures now require that naloxone be stored in clubhouses, weight rooms, dugouts and umpire dressing rooms at all major league and minor league ballparks. Also, all certified athletic trainers will be equipped with naloxone when teams travel.

Naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan, is an antidote for opioid poisoning. Most often administered as a nasal spray, naloxone finds and replaces opioid receptors, binding stronger than the opioid and effectively blocking it.

The partnership is part of an initiative launched last year by the White House called Challenge to Save Lives from Overdose.

“We are proud of the efforts across @MLB to save lives by committing to increasing training on and access to lifesaving opioid overdose reversal medications, like naloxone, and by supporting organizations like @SongforCharlie. @PBATS,” MLB vice president of communications Mike Teevan posted on X.com.

A campaign targeting fans will be launched at the All-Star Game in July and MLB has partnered with a nonprofit that attempts to raise awareness among teens and young adults about pills that unexpectedly include deadly fentanyl.

Skaggs’ death prompted MLB to begin testing for drugs of abuse, and as many as 12,000 tests are administered each year. Only players who decline treatment are subject to discipline, although positive tests for opioids have not been prevalent, according to Jon Coyles, MLB vice president of drug health and safety.

The initiative has been criticized on social media as a public relations stunt because it’s unclear whether anyone associated with an MLB team has had naloxone administered during an overdose. Coyles, however, pushed back, saying addressing opioid addiction and overdoses is an important public health issue worthy of MLB’s efforts.

“Our focus on naloxone in our industry will hopefully, just because of the public-facing nature of baseball, help with the public awareness and contribute to the national conversation on this,” Coyles told Sports Illustrated.

MLB is only one of many participants in the White House Challenge to Save Lives from Overdose. The Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, stocks naloxone at all K-12 schools and has trained healthcare staff on administering it. Students are allowed to carry naloxone, and LAUSD says the drug has been used to save about 50 lives since January 2023.

It’s difficult to say whether naloxone could have saved Skaggs’ life. He was alone in his hotel room when he chopped and snorted what he believed to be oxycodone pills provided to him by Kay, a longtime Angels media relations employee who at trial admitted to his own opioid addiction.

Kay was convicted of distributing fentanyl by a Texas jury in 2022 and is serving a 22-year prison sentence. During his trial, four Angels players — Matt Harvey, Mike Morin, Cam Bedrosian and C.J. Cron — took the stand and described opioid use taking place when they played for the team. They said the illicit 30-milligram oxycodone pills were called “blue boys” by players because of their color.

Harvey testified that Skaggs asked him for pills in June 2019 because he wanted to feel “loosey-goosey” before a start and said Skaggs told him he once crushed an oxycodone pill and snorted it on a toilet paper dispenser in the Angels’ clubhouse.

Kay’s attorney Michael Molfetta asked Harvey if he ever asked Skaggs to be careful.

“Looking back, I wish I had,” Harvey said. “In baseball, you do everything you can to stay on the field. At the time, I felt as a teammate I was just helping him get through whatever he needed to get through.”

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