Baseball Meets Opioid Crisis After Tyler Skaggs Death

Whether it likes it or not, Major League Baseball has found its way into the nationwide opioid crisis. In August, an autopsy revealed that Los Angeles Angels pitcher Tyler Skaggs died in early July with a combination of fentanyl, oxycodone, and alcohol in his system. Now the Angels are being investigated and could face punishment from MLB if it’s proven that team employees knew that Skaggs was using opioids before he was found dead in a Texas hotel room on July 1.

Eric Kay, the communications director for the Angels who is now on paid leave from the team, is the person at the center of the investigation and fallout from Skaggs’ untimely death. He came clean to officials from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, telling federal officials that he provided oxycodone to Skaggs over the course of several years and used the drug himself.

Kay also gave the DEA the names of five current or former Angels players who he believed have also used opiates. However, the names of those players have not been released publicly.

Currently, Kay is undergoing treatment for substance abuse on an outpatient basis, which is why he’s on leave from the Angels. He has expressed sorrow at the role he might have played in Skaggs’ death and says that cooperating with DEA officials is “the right thing to do.”

Who Knew?

One of his claims is that two Angels employees were aware that Skaggs was using drugs but failed to confront the pitcher or take action of any kind. He specifically names his former supervisor, Tim Mead, as one of the Angels employees who were aware of the issue. The Angels, however, dispute this claim.

“We have never heard that any employee was providing illegal narcotics to any player, or that any player was seeking narcotics from him,” Angels spokesperson Marie Garvey said in a statement issued earlier this week. “The current and former employees that are being accused of knowing this behavior have categorically denied that assertion.

“The Angels maintain a strict, zero-tolerance policy regarding the illicit use of drugs for both players and staff. Every one of our players must also abide by the MLB joint drug agreement.”

Meanwhile, MLB said it was unaware of any of Kay’s accusations about Skaggs’ drug use or the possible involvement of any Angels employees. However, MLB says it will cooperate with the federal investigation and then conduct its own investigation into the matter once the DEA if finished looking into the matter.

MLB rules stipulate that anyone employed by a team other than players is required to tell the Commissioner’s Office if there is “evidence or reason to believe that a Player … has used, possessed or distributed any substance prohibited.”

Possible Punishments

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred could suspend or ban an employee who didn’t come forward with information about Skaggs’ use of opioids or other illegal substances. The Angels could also face a fine of up to $2 million, depending on what MLB finds in their investigation.

The punishment would likely be more significant if MLB finds evidence that individuals higher up in the Angels organization knew about Skaggs using opioids prior to his death. At this time, MLB’s investigation is yet to begin, and the Angels are not sharing information with the Commissioner’s Office.

However, as soon as the DEA finishes looking into the matter, MLB can take a deeper look into Skaggs’ death and just how widespread opioid use might be among current major league players.