NEW YORK -- NFL players with asthma, colds or seasonal allergies will have to consult team doctors to avoid problems with year-round random drug testing for ephedrine that starts July 1.
"Players will have to be mindful of what they are taking," Doug Allen, assistant executive director of the NFL Players Association, said Friday. "Players with those kinds of problems need to have medication prescribed by team physicians at the appropriate levels."
Some Federal Drug Administration-approved drugs contain ephedrine or chemically related compounds. Ephedrine is among the stimulants the NFL banned last September in cooperation with the players association.
The NFL is the first U.S. pro sports league to ban ephedrine, a substance that also often is found in strength-building food supplements and can cause seizures, strokes or even death.
"It's the Wild West out there with regard to supplements and their labels," Allen said. "Many times, you can't be sure what you're taking."
When the stimulant ban was announced in September, commissioner Paul Tagliabue said the testing wouldn't begin until after further consultations with the players association, which had approved the ban but not the timing.
"It was anticipated that we would begin before the season, but we wanted to alert players to the health risks before the testing began," Allen said. "We are not doing this to be arbitrary. A lot of these substances, at the level that would help their performances, put players' health at risk."
He said neither the ban nor the timing of the testing was a contentious issue between the NFL and the players association.
"There is a problem and we needed to ban it, but we needed more information before we kicked it off," Allen said.
Players testing positive will be subject to a four-game suspension.
"We're in the process of beginning to notify the players," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "There will be postings in every locker room saying ephedrine testing begins July 1."
That memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, reads in part: "As you recall, last season the NFL and NFL Players Association agreed to ban the use of certain stimulants including ephedrine. Products containing these stimulants are often promoted for weight loss or increased energy; however, there is growing evidence linking these products to several life-threatening conditions such as strokes, seizures, thermo-regulatory disorders and heart arrhythmias."
Ephedrine's herbal form, ephedra, is an ingredient in about 200 supplements used for weight loss, building muscle or boosting energy.