Human Growth Hormone Blood Tests to Begin on Minor League Baseball Players

Major League Baseball will begin randomly giving blood tests to minor leaguers for human growth hormone.

Beginning immediately, blood samples will be taken from the non-dominant arm of randomly selected minor-league players who are not on 40-man major league rosters, Major League Baseball said today in a news release.

Blood testing of major leaguers can only be instituted after collective bargaining by baseball and its players’ union. Minor-league players are not members of the Major League Baseball Players Association and therefore must follow the rules set down by Commissioner Bud Selig.

“The implementation of blood testing in the minor leagues represents a significant step in the detection of the illegal use of human growth hormone,” Selig said in a statement. “The minor-league program employs state of the art testing procedures and the addition of HGH testing provides an example for all of our drug policies in the future.”

The players union has said the drug-testing program it negotiated with the sport prohibits blood testing of major leaguers because of its invasive nature, though it would consider such a test for HGH if a scientifically validated method was available.

“We have been engaged with the commissioner’s office on this subject for several months, though they have not shared with us the specifics behind their decision to begin blood testing of minor leaguers,” MLBPA Executive Director Michael Weiner said in a statement released today by the union. “We look forward to further discussions with the commissioner’s office on this important topic.”

Performance-Enhancing Drug

HGH is considered a performance-enhancing drug because of its ability to grow muscle and aid recovery after training. It is not detectable in urine, unlike anabolic steroids.

Former major leaguer Mark McGwire admitted using HGH for healing, and New York Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte told a U.S. congressional committee in December 2007 that he and former major league pitcher Roger Clemens both used the substance, an allegation Clemens has denied.

“This represents a major development in the detection of a substance that has previously been undetectable and been subject to abuse,” Gary Green, Major League Baseball’s medical director, said in a statement. “The combination of widespread availability and the lack of detection have led to reports of use of this drug amongst athletes.”

Used in Olympics

Blood tests for HGH have been used in the Olympics since 2004. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is funding research for a urine test that will detect the hormone.

National Football League spokesman Greg Aiello said in a February e-mail that testing for HGH has “advanced to the point that we are taking steps to incorporate it into our program.”

Earlier in February, British rugby league player Terry Newton became the first athlete to be sanctioned for using HGH. He accepted a two-year ban from the U.K. Anti-Doping authority after choosing not to contest a positive test result for HGH.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mason Levinson in New York at mlevinson@bloomberg.net

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