AUBURN | The use of synthetic marijuana was an issue at Auburn during the 2010 football season, sources have confirmed to AuburnSports.com, but the athletic department quickly partnered with its drug-testing company to create new tests to identify the substance in athletes' bloodstreams.
Aegis Sciences Corporation of Nashville, which handled the department's drug testing needs, hadn't yet developed a test for the then-legal substance when Auburn requested one in September 2010.
Auburn agreed to help Aegis create a new test by offering urine samples for use in clinical trials. Eight football players tested positive during the first two months of trials, a fact confirmed by a knowledgeable source, though the athletic department didn't formally begin punishing "spice" users until August 2011.
The NCAA added "spice" to its own list of banned substances in August 2011 as well.
Though players who tested positive during the 2010 season didn't face sanctions since the substance wasn't yet banned, AuburnSports.com spoke with the parent of a former player who said he was informed by the school of his son's positive test.
ESPN.com reported Thursday night that the parents of former players Dakota Mosley and Shaun Kitchens claim they weren't informed of their sons' positive tests.
ESPN The Magazine reported Thursday that "not one parent was notified, and no discipline was meted out in the eight-month gap between the first test in January 2011, and August 2011, when Auburn's drug policy was officially amended to include synthetic marijuana."
One parent of an Auburn player that tested positive for "spice" during that time period disagrees.
"It's just false and inaccurate. As a parent, I was notified, so that bumps the fact that no parents were notified," said one parent that wishes to remain anonymous. "I haven't seen the ESPN story, but if they said the parents weren't notified, that's not true. I was called and I know two other parents that were notified, too.
"I know for sure two, from me seeing them down there. If they notified me and two other parents, if there was anyone else, I'm sure they were told. I don't understand this."
The parent says he was notified of the failed drug test between the end of spring practice and June of 2011. That's within the time period that ESPN claims no parents were notified.
"It was just the coaches calling me and telling me basically he was smoking 'spice' and he wasn't supposed to be," the parent said. "There weren't any repercussions at the time because it wasn't a banned substance. They had internal punishment they could do."
When the unnamed player first tested positive in the spring of 2011, "spice" wasn't a banned substance by the NCAA. The parent said the players were notified of the substance and told that while the NCAA hadn't banned synthetic marijuana, coach Gene Chizik had.
"They had already talked to the players and told them they were going to put it on the list," the parent said. "The next time they tested, they tested for that. But it was a trial period so they couldn't do anything at that time."
After being told about the quotes from former player Dakota Mosley, his attorney, and Kimberly Harkness, the mother of former player Shaun Kitchens, saying no parent was notified and placing blame on the Auburn program, the parent took exception.
"That would be highly unlikely they weren't notified," the parent said.
A second parent wishing to remain anonymous also refutes the allegations in the ESPN story.
"Absolutely, 100 percent I know parents were notified in that time period," the second parent said.
Aegis announced on Jan. 24, 2011, that it was prepared to begin testing for the presence of synthetic marijuana. Auburn began using the new test three days later.
Still, there was a problem.
The initial tests simply indicated the presence of "spice" in the bloodstream. It couldn't discern the levels of substance, meaning a single use could trigger positive tests for a period of up to three weeks.
Auburn didn't feel comfortable punishing athletes without the ability to know if use was a one-time experimentation or a serial behavior. The department continued to educate athletes about the risks of using "spice" and waited for a better test that would help identify changes in usage.
The second version of the test, one that was capable of discerning levels of the substance, was added to Aegis' array in August 2011. Auburn began using the new test immediately and still tests all athletes randomly throughout the academic year.