Two Female Sports Reporters Among the Best in the Business

We were saddened to learn last week of the abuse female sports reporters frequently endure via social media forums such as Twitter and in e-mails. The hate-filled messages, usually from men, include such things as wanting to see the women murdered, raped, or beaten by their boyfriends. Vile doesn’t seem a strong enough word to describe these taunts.

The video of the words being read aloud by uninvolved men to some of the female sports reporters in question is heartbreaking and infuriating. Who do the men behind these messages think they are? Besides lacking common decency, we know one thing they are not: informed.

Over the past three decades, journalists from print, radio, and television have interviewed our esteemed anti-doping guru, Dr. Don Catlin, countless times. Sometimes it relates to his experience directing the first sports anti-doping lab in the United States, the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory, or about the many tests he’s developed to detect performance-enhancing drugs such as the first designer steroid, norbolethone; the T/E ratio test used to distinguish natural from synthetic testosterone; or THG. More recently, it often regards his experience overseeing the testing of dietary supplement products for the trusted third-party supplement certification program BSCG Certified Drug Free® or includes his insights about the use of drugs in the headlines such as meldonium, hGH, or FG-4592.

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Interview with Dr. Don Catlin in 2008. Photo by Oliver Catlin.

Throughout this span of time, Dr. Catlin has been interviewed by hundreds of journalists of every stripe. Among just a handful who have stood out and risen to the top are Amy Shipley, formerly with the Washington Post, and The New York TimesJuliet Macur, who wrote the newspaper’s story about the misogynistic messages. He has worked with both women on multiple stories over the years, and found both to be exceptional professionals.

In their own ways, Shipley and Macur have demonstrated themselves to be consistently fair, perceptive, thorough, and undaunted in asking a range of questions, doing extensive research, and covering subjects others might have overlooked or been intimated by. Their stories have been accurate, smart, and well written. In our eyes, these two women have helped lead the field of sports reporting.

Juliet Macur’s reporting of the doping challenges facing cycling outpaced others in the field and didn’t come about via conjecture, rumor, or bias as did some others’ work. Her subsequent book on Lance Armstrong’s fall demonstrated the breadth and depth of her reporting and writing skills.

Nearly 30 years ago in the 1980s, Amy Shipley contacted Dr. Catlin, wanting to know what his lab did and how they did it. He suggested she fly out to see how it all worked—and she did. The result was an extensive, in-depth piece on the science of anti-doping testing, including the use of gas chromatography mass spectrometry—not a typical topic for a daily newspaper.

In 2005, when Dr. Catlin discovered a performance-enhancing drug, the designer steroid methasterone, masquerading as a dietary supplement product, he reached out to Shipley to warn athletes. She broke the story that November, which reverberated through the industry, leading to a focus on pro-hormone supplements and ultimately an FDA raid in 2009 of Bodybuilding.com, which remains as one of the largest enforcement actions to date in the supplement industry. Methasterone was soon added to the WADA Prohibited List, and Superdrol and other similar supplement products containing the substance were eventually pulled from the marketplace.

The article prompted a loud response on the muscle boards and discussion sites, many of which included hate-filled messages and even death threats directed at Ms. Shipley and Dr. Catlin. A perfect example of the kind of vitriol that can come from journalism that pushes the envelope and exposes issues of concern to sport that also has larger impacts on the general public.

In 2006, two years before the first positive test result in sports, Shipley wrote of Dr. Catlin’s analysis of the new designer stimulant methylhexaneamine, which was being used as an ingredient in dietary supplements. Her exposé led to further evaluation of this dangerous compound, which was added to the WADA Prohibited List in 2009 and has since become the third most reported drug in the WADA system.

These are just a few examples of contributions female journalists have made to sport. Those who seek to offend and hurl scorn at female sports reporters need to be aware of the impact these dedicated, hardworking, and talented women have made in the sports realm. Shipley, Macur, and others like them, have more than earned a right to work in the field of sports reporting and deserve nothing less than our praise and our thanks for their fortitude and great work.

Gordon Adds Another Dee to PED Discussion – The Steroid Dilemma Continues for MLB

Baseball Stadium - 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, Photo by Oliver Catlin

Baseball Stadium – 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, Photo by Oliver Catlin

While most people were waking up to a wonderful Friday morning, baseball fans were discovering some more depressing news in the announcement that Dee Gordon, infielder for the Miami Marlins, has been suspended 80 games due to test results revealing two performance-enhancing drugs (PED) in his system. Gordon had originally appealed the decision, but decided against appealing Friday morning.

Thursday night, Gordon revealed to his teammates, after a 4-game sweep of his former team in Los Angeles, that he tested positive earlier this year for synthetic testosterone and Clostebol, an anabolic steroid. He released a statement this morning through the MLB Players Association saying the following:  “Though I did not do so knowingly, I have been informed that test results showed I ingested something that contained prohibited substances. The hardest part about this is feeling that I have let down my teammates, the organization and the fans. I have been careful to avoid products that could contain something banned by MLB and the 20+ tests that I have taken and passed throughout my career prove this. I made a mistake, and I accept the consequences.”

Responses to the statement have been coming faster than Dee Gordon stealing second. Players, from all teams, are showing concern and making comments on the news about Gordon’s suspension.

Figure 1 Tweets by MLB players in response to Dee Gordon's PED suspension

Figure 1 Tweets by MLB players in response to Dee Gordon’s PED suspension

Justin Verlander’s Twitter response adds powerful perspective to the issue and shows how personal it is to the players, the majority of whom love and respect our national pastime.

Figure 2 - Twitter post made by Justin Verlander from the Detroit Tigers

Figure 2 Twitter post made by Justin Verlander from the Detroit Tigers. 

Why was Gordon Allowed to continue playing when these test results came in?

Gordon won the National League batting title in 2015 and was an All-Star player while with the Dodgers and the Marlins. Having him on the field obviously makes him a valuable asset to a team. You can ask anyone who was at Dodger Stadium Thursday night when Gordon “delivered the game-tying RBI single for the Marlins in the seventh inning,” which more or less solidified the series sweep.

Gordon had originally appealed the test results, meaning that nothing was going to be released publicly until the situation had been decided, which is in accordance with MLB policy. He was allowed to continue to take the field while the case was going through the appeal process. The news became public Friday morning, because Gordon decided to no longer appeal the results. But his answer just leads to more questions.

Should the punishment be more severe for players who cheat?

The topic of performance-enhancing drugs in the league has been trending lately due to the recent announcement of the Chris Colabello doping violation a week ago, Taylor Teagarden’s suspension earlier this month, as well as allegations of Chicago Cubs’ pitcher, Jake Arrieta, cheating after his recent successes on the field drew attention. Gordon’s suspension has further catalyzed conversations already in motion about what to do with his test results as well as the punishments associated with them.

The USA Today summarized the MLB penalties as of March 28, 2014 as follows: “Players and owners announce penalties will increase to 80 games for a first testing violation and to 162 for a second, and a season-long suspension will result in a complete loss of that year’s salary, rather than 162-183rds. A player who serves a PED suspension during the season will be ineligible for that year’s postseason.”

Even with these changes made, is it enough to incentivize players to not cheat? Many aren’t so sure. In an article released on April 21, by Fox Sports, the opinions players have about the MLB drug-testing program were discussed. Ever opinionated on the topic, Verlander discussed a potential way to clean up the league. “Maybe more severe punishments,” he said. He also mentioned that “It’s too easy for guys to serve a suspension and come back and still get paid,” which is what will happen with Gordon.

Another player, Matt Holliday from the St. Louis Cardinals, gave his take on punishments for cheating players in the article. “If you’re caught taking something where they prove that you’re trying to cheat,” he said, “that it’s a legitimate steroid or testosterone. I’m all for a year, two years, to keep guys from trying to cheat…for as harsh a penalty as possible. I’m all for second chances. But if you make the penalty super, super stiff, guys will think twice. They’ll look at 80 games and think, ‘That’s not that big a deal.’ But if you start taking away two years, that’s a lot of money. That might be different.”

We can all speculate that harsher punishments would make it a more difficult decision for players to take banned substances. They would also make it even more of a priority to be aware of what is in dietary supplement products or other medications athletes use. Lack of knowledge in this area can lead to problems, just ask Maria Sharapova, who tested positive at the Australian Open for the banned substance Meldonium. Thankfully, in the case of supplements, third-party certification programs like the BSCG Certified Drug Free® program are available that evaluate and test supplements to ensure they are free of banned substances to help mitigate the risks for athletes.

Is there incentive for players to cheat, regardless of the current punishments?

Gordon was traded to the Miami Marlins at the end of his best season with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2014. Flash Gordon looked great in Dodger blue. Many fans in Chavez Ravine were sad to see him leave, especially having seen his stats soar after leaving. Of course, now that Gordon added another Dee to the PED discussion opinions have changed as we don’t need another superstar turned PED poster boy in L.A.

Last season, Gordon won the National League batting title with a .333 average. That was a big deal, due to the fact that he was neck-and-neck with Washington Nationals outfielder, Bryce Harper. He also led the league in stolen bases, with 58, a number not seen since JACKIE ROBINSON (yes, that guy) did it in 1949. Dee Gordon ended 2015 with the label “Big Deal” associated with his name and, as a result, was given a five-year, $50 million contract extension with the Miami Marlins.

Interviews were conducted before the 4-game series against the Dodgers on April 25th, prior to Gordon’s announcement. It was there, when Don Mattingly, who you might know as Donnie Baseball or the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2011 to 2015, discussed being the new manager of the Marlins and his thoughts of Gordon as a player, “What I always liked about him was his swing. You have to remember he was 140-something pounds when he started and now he’s brought it up to about 170. This is a kid that’s put on a lot of mature strength and his speed tools aren’t going away. That’s something that makes you feel really good about what he can do.”

As his manager ironically noted, Gordon was getting bigger, stronger, and better. The pressures that come with playing at this level include maintaining his skills in order to prove he is deserving of that label “Big Deal”. It isn’t unfathomable for a player to resort to taking performance-enhancing drugs in order to keep oneself at that professional level. It has been done before!

Gordon’s current punishment, aside from the 80-game suspension, includes a fine of $1.65 million. One might think that is a lot of money, until you realize it doesn’t even touch the $48.35 million he is still guaranteed on his contract. This being said, one could conclude that Gordon fought hard to earn this big paycheck, at any means possible, because cheating was worth close to fifty million dollars for him.   

Did Gordon use performance-enhancing drugs with mal intent? Did he cheat to gain weight and strength throughout his career? Was he trying to keep that “Big Deal” label while in Miami, or make it even bigger? Could this be something that happened unknowingly as his public statement claims?

While those questions linger, a single theme seems to resonate in professional baseball; even though a player’s failed test leads to a tarnished reputation, or demotion to the minor leagues, or retirement, or 80 game sanctions, he still makes millions of dollars. This is perhaps one reason why the issue of abusing banned substances in professional sports can be rationalized by players. Buster Olney’s statement about Gordon’s suspension puts it well, “the incentive to cheat will far outweigh the risks involved in being caught. Whatever the intent, whatever the justification, PED crime in baseball pays well.

If we can learn anything from the past two days, it is that the PED discussion is far from over in MLB. Those who thought the steroid era was over may need to reconsider. We also need to reconsider how the system can be improved and made stronger for the sake of the players and the fans who love our nation’s pastime. For now, Gordon is just another name added to the list of MLB players that have tested positive for PEDs. He isn’t the first, sadly–he won’t be the last.

Maria Sharapova and Meldonium – Consideration of a Therapeutic Use Exemption After a Positive Drug Test

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Maria Sharapova – London 2012 – Photo by Oliver Catlin, http://www.bscg.org

The coverage of Maria Sharapova’s announcement of her positive drug test for meldonium, or mildronate, has been astounding. Her case is yet another amazing example of a great champion falling victim to performance-enhancing drugs in one way or another. We wrote an immediate blog post about it an attempt to consider the two potential sides to a doping issue. That post still provides an interesting view of the perspective we were aiming to provide and we stand behind the bulk of the content.

In our haste to give Ms. Sharapova the benefit of the doubt in the situation, however, as we did in our conclusion and in the suggestion that perhaps her therapeutic use would be considered retrospectively, we did not fully consider the realities behind Ms. Sharapova’s claim of therapeutic use. Thankfully our friends in the anti-doping doping community have elegantly expounded on this element of the case.

The expert analysis below on therapeutic use and application in World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) doping control is important to consider. It corrects the notion that a TUE could be granted retroactively and impact a pending sanction, which would be extremely rare if not completely unique in the field of anti-doping.

The information below was written by Dr. Ken Fitch and distributed by Jim Ferstle, both valued friends and colleagues who care deeply about clean sport and anti-doping and have spent their careers fighting for the cause as we have. The points of primary interest: retroactive TUEs would be unlikely to be considered from a standpoint of sanction relief, and the defined timeframe and clinical guidelines for use of a drug should always be scrutinized when evaluating potential therapeutic use. Thank you, Ken, for providing an insightful explanation of the criteria involved in the consideration of therapeutic use exemptions and the potential application to meldonium.

Dr. Ken Fitch is an Australian doctor and Professor, School of Sports Science, Exercise and Health, Faculty of Life Science University of Western Australia. Dr. Fitch wrote the original rules for TUEs in 1991 for the IOC, chaired the IOC’s TUE Committee for 20 years, chaired WADA’s interim committee (2001-2003) that established the initial International Standard for TUE (2004) and chaired Australia’s national TUE Committee for 22 years.

Maria Sharapova’s lawyer exploring a possible TUE to exempt a sanction
by Ken Fitch, M.D.

The ludicrous suggestion by Sharapova’s lawyer that she might seek a retroactive Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) to avoid a sanction for testing positive to meldonium demands a response. Ignoring whether the 2016 World Anti-Doping Code and the 2015 International Standard for TUEs does or does not make a retroactive TUE a possibility in her circumstances, if anybody examines the criteria that must be met to grant a TUE, he/she would understand that no respectable TUE Committee could approve any such application.

WADA states that there are four criteria, all of which must be met to grant a TUE.

  1. The drug is necessary to treat an acute or chronic medical condition and the athlete would experience a significant impairment to health if it were to be withheld.
  2. The therapeutic use of the prohibited drug is highly unlikely to produce any additional enhancement of performance beyond what might be anticipated by a return to the athlete’s normal state of health following the treatment.
  3. There is no reasonable therapeutic alternative to the use of the prohibited drug.
  4. The necessity to use of the prohibited drug is not a consequence of prior use of a prohibited drug or method.

Would Sharapova’s health be significantly impaired if she was denied a TUE? The Latvian makers of meldonium advise that it should be taken in intermittent courses of 4-6 weeks and for what period of time Sharapova administered meldonium during the past ten years, has yet to be disclosed. As the only acceptable medical indications are for ischemic cardiac and ischemic cerebral conditions, it is unthinkable that Sharapova has either. Hence any claim that should she be denied the right to take meldonium would impair her health is simply fanciful. Any TUE application must fail criterion 1.

The second criterion was introduced because some athletes had an essential need to take a prohibited drug. For example, an insulin dependent diabetic would die if denied insulin which has been prohibited in sport since 1998 and their daily insulin injections that are permitted with a TUE do not enhance performance. Whether meldonium actually enhances performance in humans has yet to be demonstrated. That WADA has advised that in less than two months since it was added to the Prohibited List, 99 athletes have tested positive for meldonium would appear to indicate that many athletes and their advisors believe that it does. No athlete could claim that meldonium was essential to restore their health back to normal levels. To claim that without it, a person’s health would be less than normal is surely fictitious. Fails criterion 2.

There are many drugs that have been demonstrated in scientific trials to be valuable in cardiac ischemia and the vast majority would be far superior to meldonium. The few meldonium studies performed in humans have been on persons who recently had experienced a myocardial infarction or an acute coronary syndrome. That the makers of meldonium recommend that it be administered only in intermittent courses in contrast to most of the widely acceptable, prescribed alternatives that are to be taken daily, is further evidence of the non-essential status of meldonium to treat cardiac ischemia. As the drug is marketed in only ten countries globally and Sharapova has lived in the USA for much of her life where meldonium is not approved for human use, this poses further questions for the tennis player.

Drug therapy for cerebral ischemia is generally ineffective and less frequently used than for cardiac ischemia but those patients on whom meldonium was trialled had had either a recent stroke or evidence of deteriorating brain function. As Sharapova could not possibly demonstrate that she has either of these or indeed significant cardiac or cerebral ischemia, and if she could, alternative permitted drugs are at least as effective if not more so, she fails criterion 3.

Hence Sharapova fails 3/3 and the fourth criterion has no relevance. Finally, should an unscrupulous or ignorant TUE Committee happen to grant Sharapova a retroactive or even a prospective TUE for meldonium, WADA would be certain to appeal to CAS and the decision would be or should be overturned.

Maria Sharapova and Meldonium – Consideration of a Positive Drug Test

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Maria Sharapova – 2012 London Olympic Games – Photo by Oliver Catlin, www.bscg.org

Before jumping to conclusions and lambasting Maria Sharapova as a deliberate doper over recent revelations, we should attempt to educate ourselves and arrive at an informed decision based on the circumstances at hand. There is much to consider when reviewing Ms. Sharapova’s recent positive drug test at the Australian Open for the drug Meldonium.

First, we start with the drug, Meldonium, also known as Mildronate. You can review the pubchem listing for mildronate if you are interested. Other synonyms for the drug include “Quaterin; 76144-81-5; Kvaterin.” The long IUPAC chemical name is 3-[(trimethylazaniumyl)amino]propanoate.

In medicine, Meldonium is used to treat cardiac conditions like angina and vascular disease. It was developed by a Latvian company Grindeks and is approved in the Russian Federation and other countries but not in the Unites States. The description on Drugs.com describes it in two therapeutic categories; “treatment of cardiac disorders” and “inhibitor of carnitine synthesis.” Drugs.com includes 11 brand names across the Russian Federation, Latvia, Georgia and Lithuania: “Cardionate, Meldonium Olainfarm, Meldonium-MIK, Mildronat, Mildronat Grindeks, Mildronats, Mildroxyn, Vazomag, Midromax, Mildronate, Milkor.” There are 189 publications to explore via PubMed if you want to want to spend the time perusing them.

It appears Ms. Sharapova tested positive for the drug in an ITF (International Tennis Federation) drug test on Jan. 26 at the Australian Open. This information comes from her own accounts and the various media summaries of her case, including one from the New York Times that includes a video of her press conference in which she disclosed the positive test results. She explains the details saying, “I was legally taking the drug for the last ten years. I was getting sick very often, I had a deficiency in magnesium. I had irregular EKG results, and I had a family history of diabetes.” She added she had used the drug since 2006 based on treatment advice from her doctor.

Meldonium was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List for 2016 under the category ‘S4. Hormone and Metabolic Modulators’. Prior to 2016, Meldonium was on WADA’s monitoring program list, meaning they were watching to see if it was being abused by athletes. The notes from WADA’s 2016 Prohibited List – Summary of Major Modifications and Explanatory Notes that came out on September 16, 2015, says that “Meldonium (Mildronate) was added because of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance.”

More specifically, an abstract from a publication on Meldonium in Drug Testing and Analysis from December 2015 mentions, “the anti-ischemic drug Mildronate demonstrates an increase in endurance performance of athletes, improved rehabilitation after exercise, protection against stress, and enhanced activations of central nervous system (CNS) functions.” A good explanation on the logic and research leading WADA to prohibit of Meldonium is included in a blog from March 3, 2016, noting the positive drug tests of runners Abebe Aregawi and Endeshaw Negesse, who also recently tested positive for Meldonium.

According to a Roidadvisor.com article, “Performance-enhancing Drugs Used by Athletes That Are Surprisingly Common,” (Oct. 17, 2015),“Meldonium has generally been used by athletes in various sports for its mild stimulant-like properties.” The piece goes on to say, “Of interest to athletes is the finding that it consistently and significantly improves exercise tolerance. Some pharmaceutical companies have recently marketed it explicitly as a performance-enhancing drug. It’s also used as a ‘smart drug’ by non-athletes. Athletes have been using it for over 5 years.” Of additional concern, the article mentions other similar drugs “telmisartan (Micardis) and T3 liothyronine (Cytomel) – are currently being used by numerous elite athletes particularly in endurance sports.”

So, on the one hand there appears to be a plausible and legitimate medical reason for Ms. Sharapova to have used Meldonium. It could have simply been a mistake that she continued to use it in 2016 without realizing it had become prohibited or seeking a therapeutic-use exemption for the drug, which presumably she could have and still might receive if her account holds true. It’s possible that will be evaluated retrospectively. It would appear there was enough time to consider the potential concern as Meldonium was on the WADA monitoring program list since January 1, 2015 and notification of it being added to the Prohibited List came out more than three months before the start of the year. It is not known if the ITF provided any notification to its players in addition to the information WADA provided.

Now, the cynics will probably look at the message board information and say it appears clear that athletes have known about the doping potential of drugs like Meldonium for years now. They may conclude that Ms. Sharapova has come up with a convenient explanation of what happened after the fact. Sadly, that explanation is also plausible.

This issue is the perfect example of a primary challenge we face when confronting the need to conduct anti-doping testing to keep sport clean. All we have is the test results that indicate a positive or negative finding in a urine sample. The results do not speak to the motivations or intentions of the athlete. In situations like this one, or in cases that involve dietary supplement use, it is hard to know whether the athlete is being truthful in their explanation or if they have developed a convenient explanation for their use of the substance involved.

We will see how things conclude in this case. Given what we know about the character of Ms. Sharapova, we have to think this is accidental doping. Of course one can never be certain and the rules of strict liability still apply as they always do in the anti-doping realm, and as she herself notes in her statement. Sadly, she is now subject to a possible two years of sanctions and has had a pall pulled over the culmination of a fabulous career. Tennis will miss her and her the game. This case is the perfect illustration of the need for drug tested athletes to take it upon themselves at the end of each year to be vigilant and review changes in the WADA Prohibited List to ensure their medications and dietary supplements are compliant with the drug testing rules for the next year.

By Oliver Catlin, President, Banned Substances Control Group, www.bscg.org

For a Growing Number of Athletes and Consumers, Supplement Certification is Key

banner10bA new survey published recently in the New Zealand Medical Journal reveals 93 percent of elite New Zealand athletes consume dietary supplements. That an overwhelming majority of elite athletes use supplements shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. A 2013 survey from the National Marketing Institute in the United States revealed that supplement usage among U.S. adults at large increased from 62 percent in 2009 to 73 percent in 2013.

For competitive athletes, the pressure to be in top physical form is often especially intense. Some supplements can help optimize performance and nutrition without leading to positive drug tests. Supplements can help improve hydration and oxygen levels, support protein and carbohydrate intake and other baseline needs, and maximize key nutrients.

The caveat is that not all dietary and nutritional supplements are safe or free of problematic performance-enhancing drugs. Some products—especially those aimed at muscle-building, pre-workout stimulation, male sexual performance, and weight loss—are often contaminated with pharmaceutical drugs or designer drugs that could be harmful or may be banned in sport. Ingredients lists on supplement products cannot always be trusted, as problematic substances are often hidden in the product and do not appear on the label. These issues put athletes and general consumers at risk

According to WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) on its website, “A significant number of positive tests have been attributed to the misuse of supplements.” Sporting authorities will not tolerate inadvertent doping, or doping via supplements, as an excuse for a positive drug test. Because every athlete is responsible for every substance found in his or her body, they must take great care in choosing which supplements to consume.

The traditional approach sporting authorities have espoused to athletes is to avoid taking supplements altogether. “The use of dietary supplements,” one common refrain goes, “is not recommended or encouraged as such products can lead to positive drug tests or other health concerns.”

As longtime experts in the field of sports drug testing, we at BSCG (Banned Substances Control Group) do not believe such a rigid approach today is realistic—or necessary. Many supplements can help athletes achieve their goals without risking their health or disqualification.

Today the supplement quandary for athletes and consumers is being solved through certification. Third-party administrators such as BSCG offer rigorous, independent, ISO-accredited supplement certification focused on the protection of athletes, consumers and even animals. A searchable database is provided for supplements that meet the established certification criteria.

Supplement certification helps the growing numbers of athletes and consumers to effectively navigate the supplement marketplace and identify supplement products that have been tested for their security. For more information about supplement certification for athletes, consumers, or animals or to search for BSCG Certified Drug Free® supplements, visit www.BSCG.org.

Banned Sports Doping Agents and Illegal Drugs Marketed as Dietary Supplements on Amazon.com

Designer steroids and prohormones, Selective Androgen Receptor Modulators (SARMs), growth hormone secretagogues, and new blood doping agents like FG-4592 all available to athletes and consumers through the online retailer, often under the guise of dietary supplements

The media has been swarming over possible concerns about Amazon’s poor treatment of its employees. Apparently there is less scrutiny on the products the retpillsailer has available for sale. Those interested in anti-doping and drugs in sport wonder how athletes manage to get their hands on banned doping agents to enhance their performance. One simple answer, products masquerading as dietary supplements on Amazon.com.

For years we have marveled at the easy access to steroids and other drugs via Amazon.com, and have written blog posts about it in 2010, 2011, 2013 and assisted with a Slate article in May 2014. Anabolic steroids like methasterone, new drugs like the SARM Ostarine, prescription drugs, and more have all been available. Ever since we realized the prevalence of doping agents on the site, some of which were on the list of DEA Controlled Substances, we have tracked the issue further.

We recently circled back again to see how Amazon has responded, especially after the passage of the new Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act in December 2014 (DASCA). We applaud our friends at the United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA) for promoting this bill and the government for finally enacting stronger regulations in this arena.

So what is still available at Amazon.com in the way of sports doping agents, or designer drugs? Plenty. This week, a search for prohormones brings up 94 items. When we were here a week ago there were 96, and it went up to 97 while we were exploring, so the list is constantly in flux. Having reviewed the offerings before, and being reasonably familiar with the products, we focused our review on a few items of interest. It is good that we are familiar, because for some of these potentially dangerous products, which presume to be dietary supplements, no information is provided about the ingredients.

Real problems remain. Take Blackstone Labs Alpha-1 Max, the product description on Amazon merely says, “Great product.” Visiting Strong Supplement Shop online, you find the product, label information and the ingredient, 20mg of Methyl-1-Etiocholenolol-Epietiocholanolone. This drug is otherwise known in the vernacular as Alpha One, Methyl-1-AD, or Methyl-1-Alpha. PubChem lists it as Epietiocholanolone with 43 depositor-supplied-synonyms, so the naming conventions are broad for this one compound, which is part of the challenge in tracking it and others like it.

If you Google the drug name, many links come up. Just pick one and an explanation like the following appears: “Methyl-1-Etiocholenolol-Epietiocholanolone, aka Methyl 1-AD, M1A, or Alpha One is one of the strongest designer steroid/prohormone compounds on the market.” Alpha-1 Max is not alone, Xtreme Alpha-1 contains the same drug, according to the Amazon product description.

XtremeShedThe list of steroidal products available on Amazon continues with Xtreme Shed. Strong Supplement Shop has a version of the same product which is no longer available due to the prohormone ban in 2014. According to the Amazon product description Xtreme Shed includes: “(3,3-azo-17a-methyl-5a-androstan-17b-ol) 20mg (6a-Chloro-androst-4-en-17b-ol-3-one) 30mg”. The first ingredient is known as methyldiazirinol, the second hexadrone. Both are prohormones or designer steroids. The StrongSupplementShop listing for Xtreme Shed says the product contained 4-chloro-17a-methyl-androst-4-en-17b-ol3-one, otherwise known as methylclostebol.

Methylclostebol is a steroid that was added to the DEA Controlled Substances list under the DASCA legislation, probably why Xtreme Shed was discontinued at Strong Supplement Shop. The two compounds in Xtreme Shed on Amazon are not listed by name in the DASCA language. Perhaps the one on Amazon is a new version with the ingredients adjusted in hopes of getting around the DASCA legislation? If you thought the prohormone and designer steroid era was over, think again.

It doesn’t stop there. SARMs, a new category of developing drugs that aim to mimic the effects of anabolic steroids, remain available on Amazon.com in offerings like EPG OstaLean, or Osta, or Osta Laxogen. The names and product information suggest they contain the drug Ostarine, which appears on the WADA Prohibited List. Its scientific name is Enobosarm with a long name, (2S)-3-(4-cyanophenoxy)-N-[4-cyano-3-(Trifluoromethyl)phenyl]-2-hydroxy-2-methylpropanamide). In the case of Osta and Osta Laxogen, the Amazon product descriptions include the long name, the same way it is written in an FDA warning letter from December 11, 2014 addressing the sale of the SARM by another company.

Interestingly, if you purchase Osta the order is fulfilled by Amazon. What does it mean to be fulfilled by Amazon? According to the site, “Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA) is a service we offer sellers that lets them store their products in Amazon’s fulfillment centers, and we directly pack, ship, and provide customer service for these products. Something we hope you’ll especially enjoy.” So, in the case of Osta, fulfilled by Amazon apparently means that the product is currently inventoried in an Amazon warehouse, with Amazon shipping and providing customer service, all for a product described to contain a drug that the FDA has issued a warning letter against previously.

The FDA wrote the following in its warning letter, “androgenic modulator products are unapproved new drugs sold in violation of sections 505(a) and 301(d) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FDCA) [21 U.S.C. §§ 355(a) and 331(d)] and are misbranded drugs sold in violation of sections 502 and 301(a) [21 U.S.C. §§ 352 and 331(a)] of the FDCA”. It goes on to say that SARMs, “are not dietary supplements.”

A Maxim magazine article focused on the popularity of SARMs, secretagogues and other unapproved drugs sold as supplements earlier this year. The DEA’s position on SARMs after the passage of DASCA is represented as follows in the article: “The way the statute is written, we have to be able to demonstrate a substance is chemically and pharmaceutically similar to testosterone,” says DEA spokesman Joseph Moses. “That makes them incapable of being controlled under the term anabolic steroid.” Nonetheless, SARMs certainly don’t qualify as legal dietary supplement ingredients, hence the FDA’s warning letter.

Unfortunately, the list of doping agents available at Amazon.com does not stop with steroids and SARMs. Blackstone Labs MK Ultra contains the drug Ibutamoren, also known as MK-677, according to the label and product information found elsewherefg-4592. Ibutamoren is in development for the treatment of growth disorders; in the doping realm it is known as a growth hormone secretagogue. Growth hormone secretagogues are listed generally on the WADA Prohibited List, but this specific drug does not appear yet by name. Even the new blood doping agent FG-4592 can be found on Amazon.com, although it is not currently available from the listed supplier nor is it clear if it is offered as a dietary supplement.

Athletes don’t need any kind of clandestine network to get sports doping agents; all they need is Amazon. The reality is banned and unapproved new drugs are at our finger tips often pretending to be dietary supplements. If you don’t believe this is a problem, picture a 16-year-old kid unknowingly buying a potent anabolic steroid on Amazon that can cause serious health issues, like Alpha-1 Max, and it might change your thinking. From the anti-doping perspective, we have a tough fight ahead if new doping drugs appear as supplements on Amazon.com as quickly as we can create the tests to detect them.

New Sports Doping Agent FG-4592 Not the Only HIF Drug Available to Athletes

fg-4592 What drugs are athletes using to dope? This is one of the most commonly asked questions in the realm of sports anti-doping. Recently the answer has been provided in glaring form. During the week of July 29, Dr. Don Catlin, BSCG’s chief science officer and former longtime director of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory, was interviewed by the New York Times regarding a new drug called FG-4592, which was detected in tests of at least two elite cyclists.

AstraZeneca, one of the drugs’ developers, summarizes FG-4592 as “a small molecule inhibitor of hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF) prolyl hydroxylase. HIF is a protein that responds to oxygen changes in the cellular environment and meets the body’s demands for oxygen by inducing erythropoiesis, the process by which red blood cells are produced.”

FG-4592 is available in pill form and is orally active, unlike its cousin, recombinant erythropoietin, or EPO, which must be injected. Some have dubbed FG-4592 as oxygen in pill form. This new drug is a breakthrough for anemia treatment and other similar blood ailments.  doping-271623_640Unfortunately, an effective blood boosting drug in pill form is also the Holy Grail for endurance dopers. Though FG-4592 remains in third-stage clinical trials around the world, it is widely available as a research chemical on the Internet. Its apparent arrival in elite sport is troubling, yet predictable.

Similar to EPO, HIF drugs like FG-4592 help increase oxygen carrying capacity by spurring the production of red blood cells. Some researchers believe HIF stabilizers might be even more effective than EPO as they can help stimulate iron absorption and suppress the inflammation of cytokines.[1] FG-4592 was recently added to the WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) Prohibited List for 2015, as have cobalt and other HIF stabilizers and activators in general.  No other HIF drugs are named though they would be prohibited if they are detected.

According to PubChem’s listing of Chemical Vendors, there are 18 suppliers of FG-4592 worldwide . One of the vendors, the Houston-based company APExBIO, has eight HIF-related biochemicals available on its website including BAY 87-2243, 2-Methoxyestradiol, PX 12, ML 228, KC7F2, Chetomin, DMOG, and its top seller, IOX2 (Glycine). On PubChem, there are 251 Related Compounds with Annotation to explore.

Recent positive drug tests of two elite cyclists suggest athletes have managed to obtain FG-4592 for use as a performance-enhancer. Though the chemical vendors listed on PubMed are not marketing the drug to athletes, another site does not seem as scrupulous, as it sells research peptides like FG-4592 alongside an array of “performance enhancers.”  Some research peptides at www.superhumanstore.com overlap the list of performance enhancers. Numerous drugs on the WADA Prohibited List are available on this site including Aicar, CJC-1295 (a growth hormone secretagogue), Erythropoietin-mimetic peptide 17 (EMP17), GHRP-2, Sermorelin, Thymosin Beta- 4 and more. Similar drugs are available that are not included on the WADA Prohibited List by name, like BAY 87-2243 and Follistatin 344 (a myostatin inhibitor).

The average cyclists pictureprofessional cyclist in the UCI Tour makes $142,000, according to Ernst & Young.  Top riders can earn up to $5 million. Currently, the average dose of FG-4592 is recommended at 1-2mg/kg, 3 times a week, so $780 for 500mg will buy a two- week’s supply. An athlete could buy a year’s supply for around $20,280. This is a relatively affordable rate, even to an average Tour rider. With the difference between the average salary and the top salaries in elite cycling so significant, the financial incentives to use this new drug, or its cousins, remains high.

The good news is FG-4592 is detectable with drug tests. Similar developing drugs will undoubtedly be pursued and tried by athletes in the not-too-distant future. Whether these other options, particularly those not specified on the WADA Prohibited List, are detectable only time will tell. One thing history has proven, these will not be the last athletes to test positive for a new sports doping agent.

By Oliver Catlin and Joe Taylor

[1] Medscape  (http://www.medscape.org/viewarticle/548667)