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Performance-Enhancing Drugs: What are they and what are they not?

Published:Saturday | July 27, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Trevor Hall, Contributor

AS THE saying goes, "You cannot compare apple to oranges", but apples may be compared to oranges when speaking about fruit!

The same can be said about performance-enhancing drugs, where the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) packages anabolic steroids, diuretics, and stimulants under the same umbrella of 'drugs'.

Even the legal system differentiates tobacco from alcohol, marijuana, and heroin. Having two glasses of wine with dinner is not the same as injecting heroin after a meal. Yet in the world of sports, when an athlete fails a drug test, or in the language of sports, 'returns an adverse analytical finding', anabolic steroids = diuretics = stimulants. The athlete who took vitamins or supplements with a stimulant is treated the same as the athlete who used steroids. That is unfair to the athlete, the sport, and the fans.

To be fair to WADA and the national anti-doping agencies that conduct disciplinary hearings and hand out penalties, the use of anabolic steroids does not carry the same penalty as diuretics or stimulants - the penalties range from a verbal reprimand for stimulants to a lifetime ban for anabolic steroids. However, when an athlete fails a drug test, he or she is immediately labelled in the press and the court of public opinion as having taken a performance-enhancing drug.


There is a need to change the protocol that publicises the results of drug tests. If WADA and the national anti-doping agencies are going to identify athletes, then they should inform the public about the nature of the adverse finding. Was the substance an anabolic steroid, a stimulant, or a diuretic? Did the athlete declare the substance, and did the athlete receive a therapeutic-use exemption (TUE), allowing him or her to take the substance? Athletes are human beings, and some have legitimate illnesses that require prescription drugs containing substances banned by WADA.

Track and field and other sports brought this chaotic system on to themselves when a number of athletes took performance-enhancing drugs, beat the system, and lied to the world. WADA was fooled for a long time. They would test athletes who had performance-enhancing drugs in their systems and report that the athletes passed the drug tests.

Today, WADA and national anti-doping agencies are taking the draconian position of WADA Code, Article 2.1.1: "It is each athlete's personal duty to ensure that no prohibited substance enters his or her body." That is all fine and good. The questions are: How can a 20-something-year-old young man or woman know the content of every vitamin, supplement, energy drink, meat, spice, or medication. If the athlete sneezes or has a headache, he or she had better not take any medication. Do not get a toothache or even strain a muscle. When you are invited to dinner or go to a restaurant, must your personal chef prepare your meal? And do not have that physical therapist rub any oil on your muscle. The clean athlete needs help!


On the same day the media reported that the fastest American sprinter in history had failed a drug test, word also broke that two Jamaican sprinters had also failed drug tests. Next, word filtered out that the Italian hotel where a Jamaican track club was staying had been raided by the police. The Italian police became involved because Italy is one of the few countries where a failed drug test by athletes is a potential criminal offence.

Although the Udine police chief, Antonio Pisapi, told Associate Press that rooms were searched and no arrests were made, he also said they are analysing substances taken from the Fra I Pini Hotel. All of this makes little sense. The substance found in the failed drug test of the Jamaican sprinters was the stimulant oxilofrim (also known as methylsnephrin). This stimulant is not an illegal drug, so why were the police involved?

When all the evidence is analysed, we may find that, indeed, apples were compared to oranges, and in this case they were not talking about fruits. Anabolic steroids were packaged with stimulants. One of the best ways to divert attention away from a famous American athlete using performance-enhancing drugs, knowingly or unknowingly, is to shift the focus to other famous athletes, from a small island, who had stimulants in their systems. In this case, two glasses of wine = injection of heroin.