Athletes and Performance Enhancing Drugs
Athletes are under a great deal of pressure to win. Some athletes are willing to put their health and sometimes their lives at stake by using performance enhancing drugs. Performance enhancing drugs may include prescription drugs, illegal drugs, over-the-counter drugs, or dietary supplements. Steroids have gotten much attention by the media, but there are other dangerous performance enhancing drugs. Less well known methods of artificially enhancing performance include taking T3, a thyroid hormone that encourages loss of fat, and blood doping, which involves storing red blood cells and re-injecting them right before a competition for an oxygen boost; both of these methods can be very dangerous and lead to death. Many different substances have been banned from sporting events because they are too dangerous, give an unfair advantage, or prevent detection of banned substances.
Drug testing for athletes is widespread but inadequate. Random drug testing, where the athlete does not know about the test ahead of time, is far more affective than announced tests. Urine samples are preferred because medical personnel aren’t required for collection, but it does cause embarrassment when it is necessary to watch athletes give their samples to ensure that it is the athlete’s urine being tested. Despite athlete complaints, samples are handled with great care after they leave the athlete’s sight. There is a chain-of-command that ensures the testing is fair and athlete samples are not tampered with. Laboratories must be certified and must respect the athlete’s confidentiality. When a test comes up positive, there are usually appeal procedures and a fair hearing for the athlete.
As better tests are developed, athletes find better ways to beat the tests. Athletes go to great lengths to pass urine tests including taking diuretics to dilute samples or using a catheter with another person’s urine. There are drugs that will mask detection as well. Fortunately, most of these methods to mask detection of drugs are easily caught, but there will always be ways of thwarting the tests. It is important that athletes learn to focus on healthy habits rather than on the numerous ways of cheating. Many good athletes have lost their careers and even their lives to performance enhancing substances.
Lists of banned substances are constantly being updated and may be different between different sports and levels of competition. Subscription based databases are available online for further information. Just because a substance is not officially banned doesn’t mean it’s safe or effective. Dietary supplements are particularly troublesome because they are largely unregulated and may contain harmful or banned performance enhancing substances without the user being fully aware of the contents. When in doubt about a particular substance, the best policy is to consult a medical professional or avoid the substance altogether. Performance enhancing drugs are a serious problem in sports and being educated is the best solution.