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Wednesday / April 17.
HomemitwocentsPerformance Enhancing Drugs

Performance Enhancing Drugs

As the PM announced the election, Australian sports codes were tainted by allegations of drug taking and criminal connections. Was it all just a ploy to win votes?

One of the most important elements in the evolution of optometrist services to the wider public in Australia has been the use of therapeutic drugs. There is no doubt that patients today are much better off in terms of quality, quantity, cost and timeliness of diagnosis and treatment, now that the various States have finally recognised the efficacy of treating at the frontline.

The general public has a limited understanding of the sorts of medications that are licensed and dispensed by optometrists and pharmacists, and so it should be. That same public has spent much of the past couple of months reading newspapers, watching television reports and listening to the ‘drugs in sport’ issues that have blanketed front pages and filled air-time. The Australian Crime Commission (ACC) announced back in late February that the beloved sporting codes which we admire and follow were tainted to the extent that they should no longer be considered as legitimate.

The announcement was taken extremely seriously but the facts were clouded. Throw into the mix the heavy elbow of organised crime, and a swatch of match fixing, and the whole framework of sporting culture in Australia was portrayed as seriously flawed. Given the massive influence that sport has on our culture, the massive financial investments and the ‘role model’ examples that highly paid, heavily media exposed athletes present to our communities, drugs and cheating quite rightly bring indignation and shame.

Apparently you can merely look at some of these formulae and the test turns positive

Whatever it takes

Many people approached me at the time and suggested that all sportsmen and women have few morals. The public and the press bundled all sportspeople into a single hessian sack and threw them under the same train. They will do anything to win “whatever it takes” is the oft used sobriquet. Most athletes add in parenthesis “within the rules”. Some don’t.

I make sure to explain to the punters, that not all the drugs these sports people take are illegal. Performance enhancing medications are generally not illegal or unobtainable, they are however prohibited from use as artificial stimuli for playing whatever game you choose. There are extensive lists of chemicals, which the World Anti-Doping Association (WADA) insist are not ingested. They may come as a single dose, an oral tablet, in a hypodermic or infusion or a liquid concoction. Apparently you can merely look at some of these formulae and the test turns positive.

Anabolic steroids can be used as legitimate treatment for the general public, and sportspeople can use them to get better quicker, but they are not allowed to play their sports when doing so. Any professional athlete can take prohibited substances, but their doctor must present a therapeutic use exemption (TUE). TUEs are commonplace and can be issued for anything from steroid injections in knees to steroidal nose drops for rhinitis and hayfever. Cold medications containing pseudoephedrine are taboo as the stimulant is seen as performance enhancing.

I would have thought that any medicine that stops aches and pains, and turns off the tap in your hooter would enhance performance. These things are all available over the counter at the pharmacy. If you work in an office, factory or drive a car they are all acceptable and legal.

Recreational drugs

Drugs the police may want to interview you about are illegal to the whole populace. Many are not helpful to the playing of sport or walking down the street, in fact most are downright dangerous to your health and ambulation. Some, such as cocaine, are stimulants and only useful to athletes in explosive sports in extremely short bursts. Both WADA and Interpol test for cocaine. The so-called recreational drugs, which the football codes in particular worry about in the off-season, are rife in society.

Coaches and administrators do not want their players anywhere near these drugs because of the possible path to addiction and crime and because they are downright unhealthy.

An Election Ploy?

The ACC was not concerned solely about ‘recreational or performance enhancing drugs’. Match fixing and association with organised crime come hand in hand with the delivery of illegal performance enhancing drugs. The list of possible felonies had ballooned by the time the ACC had delivered the missive. The fans and general public must have felt they were a part of some huge deception perpetrated by the likes of tigers, lions, magpies, jets and various other jungle animals or weather phenomena. The teams and players themselves threw up their collective hands in shock horror and dismay. Stony-faced administrators stood sentinel to politicians whose leader had announced the future election, just days before… could there be a connection? Could politicians be so cynical as to use Australia’s popular culture as a campaign tool… at the time of writing that had not been ruled out.

The truth of the matter is to be determined over some considerable months. There will be no quick fix with this investigation. Whole teams have been threatened with disbarment from their national competition and that brings us back to the fans who bare their heart and souls and part with their hard earned cash, year in and out to support them. The fans deserve better from the authorities and of course from the guilty ones – and there will be a number, but just a small number… and we hope that the tip of the iceberg reveals little more.

The enlightened use of drugs in our profession is a very useful privilege and results in manifold benefits to many people. Sadly the ‘whatever it takes’ mentality can be overwhelming for those who believe taking drugs will give them an advantage. An advantage that is really only cheating in a bottle/syringe/tablet… choose your poison.