WADA cracks down on banned drugs

The World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada) has widened the net on performance-enhancing drugs by creating a new class of banned substances that includes drugs sold on the black market before approval by the pharmaceutical industry.

Wada has also reduced the classification of a stimulant involved in a dozen doping cases in India, opening the chance for some athletes to be cleared to compete in next month's Commonwealth Games.

At a meeting in Montreal last weekend, Wada's executive committee approved a new banned list for 2011 that will go in effect on 1 January 2010.

The most significant change is the addition of a new section on "non-approved substances," a move to combat cheating with drugs that are still under clinical development by medical companies.

Looking at what’s on the black market

"The intention is to look at things that are on the black market before they've been launched by the pharmaceutical industry," Wada director general David Howman said. "While substances are in the research and development stage, sometimes they do get out there.

"We just want to make sure that there is some way that they can be covered because we are alert to the fact that they're picked up."

Howman cited the example of CERA, an advanced version of the endurance-enhancing blood hormone EPO that has been at the centre of several cycling and Olympic doping scandals.

"It came on the market in May or June 2008, but then we found out that it was on the black market as far back as 2005," Howman said.

Disqualified athletes

After a French lab devised a test for CERA, four riders were caught using the drug at the 2008 Tour de France. Last year, the International Olympic Committee retested samples from the 2008 Beijing Olympics and disqualified five athletes for CERA use.

"I don't think anybody got off in the past," Howman said. "This is more about looking to the future. There wasn't a loophole that has been exposed. This is more a hole without the loop."

Also on the new non-approved list are veterinary substances that have been used for medicinal purposes in humans in the past.

Although they have since been discontinued, Wada says the drugs can still be obtained illegally for performance enhancement.

WADA also loosened the classification of Methylexanemine to the "specified stimulant" list, which covers drugs that are more susceptible to inadvertent use and can carry reduced penalties.

Indian athletes tested positive

About a dozen Indian athletes have tested positive for the drug in recent months, including seven who were on India's team for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

Wada said Methylexanemine was sold as a medicine until the early 1970s and has now reappeared in some nutritional supplements and cooking oils.

Sanctions for use of the drug can be reduced if athletes can prove they did not intend to enhance performance. Penalties can range from a warning to a two-year ban.

Wada said the change was not related to the new Indian cases, but the agency notified India's national anti-doping body of the impending decision.

Athletes will have to go to an Indian tribunal to argue their case. If they receive only a warning, they would have a chance to compete in the Commonwealth Games.

"The onus is still on the athlete to prove to the satisfaction of the tribunal that this is how it got into their body and the tribunal has to accept that," Howman said. "Wada also retains a right of appeal."

(Sapa, Stephen Wilson, September 2010)

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