Clampdown on criminal steroid syndicates

The SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport has announced that they plan to push for legislation to regulate over-the-counter sports supplements in an effort to stop illegal contamination.

In a statement released this week, they announced their plans  "to regulate the manufacture, marketing and sale of sports supplements to ensure that over-the-counter supplements are free of designer steroids and potent stimulants, to stop the illegal contamination of children and athletes, so that they can rediscover the value of fair play in sport".

At the recent Supplements in Sport Symposium, hosted by The South African Institute for Drug-Free Sport, it was revealed that the most concerning aspect about supplement contamination is that recently new designer steroids have found their way into supplements.

“This was first detected when urine samples of athletes demonstrated unknown signals,” says Dr Shuaib Manjra, Chairman, SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport. MS analyses detected these as steroid metabolites, which includes prostanozol, methasterone and ostatrienedione, which are solely produced for the supplement market, probably to circumvent the law around steroids and/or avoid detection in doping control tests. Worryingly, very little is understood about these compounds. ”

He says that a regulatory framework is needed to ensure that supplements sold over-the-counter are free of illegal substances.

Challenges face regulators

“Legislation is needed because the efficacy of supplements has not been proven, contents change from batch to batch, they are not accurately labelled, and some contain ingredients and banned substances not listed on packaging and the long term side effects are unknown.

“The issue of supplements has been a vexed one, which has challenged the anti-doping world for many years and current challenges need to be viewed against the backdrop of the extent of the problem,” he says.

Supplements generate revenue of over USD 60 billion world-wide, and there are over 30 000 supplements available in the United States alone. Estimates put supplement use among athletes at anything between 44 to 100% (Gayer, et al, 2008).

Research has shown that supplements contaminated with prohibited substances varies between 10 – 25% in Western Europe and the USA (Geyer, et al, 2008). The percentage is about the same in South Africa.  

As well as designer steroids, these contaminations (of prohibited substances not declared on the label) also include supplements contaminated with stimulants (15-20%) including ephedrine, caffeine, MDMA and Sibutramine; supplements contaminated with pro-hormones (15%); supplements contaminated with classical anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) such as meatandienone, stanozolol, boldenone, oxandrolone, hehydrochlormethyl-testosterone; and vitamins and minerals contaminated with anabolic steroids such as Metandienone and stanozolol.

“These five scenarios of contamination of supplements are of huge concern to us and I believe that this contamination may be accidental in some cases but deliberate in many of them,” says Manjra. “Deliberate contamination occurs in order to enhance the efficacy of the product. Athletes would attribute any performance enhancement to the supplement where in fact it would be the result of the prohibited contaminant.”

Athletes testing positive for banned substances

Dr Amy Eichner, Manager of Drug Reference Resources for the US Anti-Doping Agency (ASADA), who was the keynote speaker at the conference, says: “At USADA we feel strongly that the regulatory framework must be improved, in order to protect the health and welfare of anyone who chooses to take supplements. For athletes concerned with testing positive as the result of taking a supplement, we inform them that strict liability applies and if they choose to take supplements they do so at their own risk.”

With regard to educational awareness, SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport recently launched its new ‘I Play Fair – Say NO! To Doping’ initiative, aimed at tackling doping in sport; and spreading the message of ethics, fair-play and anti-doping in sport, which coincided with the release of shocking statistics that reflect a 100% increase in doping offences in sport.

Eichner says that it is extremely important that athletes, fans and coaches publicly declare that doping has no place in sport. “Sport is designed to be the purest form of human competition, and those that value the life lessons learned through sport want clean competition. Everyone plays a part reclaiming clean competition, and we must refuse to let sport be ruined by those that would attempt to cheat through the use of performance enhancing drugs,” she adds.

(Press release, July 2011)

Read more:

Guide to legal supplements
Could the doping tests be wrong?


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