Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig announced Thursday that, effective immediately, Minor League players will be subject to "random blood testing for the detection of human growth hormone" under Major League Baseball's current Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program.
"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 news comes after Selig's office has issued suspensions of Minor Leaguers on three consecutive days for positive tests for various performance-enhancing substances.
As of Thursday, 49 Minor Leaguers have been suspended in 2010 for violating the Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program, although none of the bans have been attributed to HGH use.
Selig said in April that he wanted a ban on HGH in baseball. HGH is believed to enhance athletic ability and has already been banned by the International Olympic Committee and NCAA, although it's not detectable through traditional urine testing.
"Believe me, I'm most anxious to move forward," Selig told the AP. "One can debate what HGH does or doesn't do. It needs to be banned."
Currently, Minor Leaguers are suspended for 50 games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance, with the penalty rising to 100 games for a second positive test. A third positive test can result in permanent suspension from Major League and Minor League Baseball.
Players who test positive for a "drug of abuse," such as cocaine, LSD or marijuana, are issued a warning and, after a second positive test, are subject to a 50-game ban.
Players who test positive receive counseling, inpatient treatment, outpatient treatment and follow-up testing as part of the treatment program. Major League Baseball is the first United States professional sports league to conduct blood testing.
According to a statement issued by Selig's office, the National Center for Drug Free Sport, the organization that currently performs all urine sample collections under the Minor League Drug Program, will perform all blood sample collections. The samples will be collected after Minor League games from the non-dominant arms of randomly selected non 40-man roster players at select Minor League affiliates.
Blood samples will then be shipped to the Sports Medicine Research and Testing Laboratory in Salt Lake City for analysis.
"This represents a major development in the detection of a substance that has previously been undetectable and been subject to abuse," said Dr. Gary Green, Medical Director for Major League Baseball.
Major League Baseball's Minor League Drug Prevention and Treatment Program was implemented in June 2001 and primarily tests for steroids. Most Minor Leaguers suspended in the past several years have tested positive for substances like Stanozolol and Nandrolone.
Major League players are not subject to the new testing initiatives, but since Minor League players are not members of the Players Association, blood testing for HGH is not a subject for collective bargaining.
The Minor League program has continued to update its list of prohibited substances as well as it's procedures for the number of random tests, testing procedures and the penalties applicable for failed tests.
"The combination of widespread availability and the lack of detection have led to reports of use of this drug amongst athletes," said Green. "This is the first generation of HGH testing, and Major League Baseball will continue to fund the Partnership for Clean Competition for ongoing research to refine testing procedures in this area."