Drugs in sport – what’s that got to do with health professionals?

The Australian Crime Commission’s Organised Crime and Drugs in Sport report, released in early February 2013, has caused a massive stir in the media. There are a number of professional sporting codes affected, with the use of Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs (PIEDS) and illicit drugs being implicated.

So how might health professionals fit into all this? Here’s our top 4:

  1. Exercise and Sports Science Australia (ESSA) has released two statements, the first calling for an end to the sports science industry being unregulated. In particular, ESSA focused attention on Stephen Dank, at the centre of the controversy at Essendon Football Club, who was quoted in the media as being a ‘sport scientist’. ESSA has found no record of Mr Dank being a sports scientist, meaning that disciplinary action cannot be taken against him in a professional sense. Mr Dank has since launched a defamation claim against various media outlets, alleging that he was falsely accused of selling illegal drugs to athletes. In their second statement, ESSA have suggested that in the future, only ESSA accredited sports scientists be employed in the arena of professional sports.
  2. Pharmacy The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia’s (PSA) media release highlights the fact that pharmacists are able to check if any medications they are dispensing are on the banned substances list, and that athletes are able to seek advice from their pharmacist regarding this. However, Pharmacy News reported that there may be some compounding pharmacists who will be implicated in providing banned substances to athletes. PSA CEO Liesel Wett has said that if pharmacists have been involved in illegal activity, this should be referred to authorities including the Pharmacy Board of Australia.
  3. Sports Medicine Australia has released a statement supporting the fight against the use of banned and illegal substances in sport. SMA has a website called Clean Edge, which provides athletes with information about the safe, effective, legal ways to enhance performance. Australian Doctor has reported that some doctors have been working in anti-ageing clinics to source performance enhancing drugs, and have been taking part in fraudulent activities such as writing prescriptions with false names and prescribing hormones without necessary blood tests.
  4. DieteticsDietitian Louise Burke, head of nutrition at the Australian Institute of Sport was interviewed by the ABC, and talked about the fact that some supplements may contain banned substances. The role of a sports dietitian is to work with athletes to ensure their diet and supplement regimes follow evidence-based practice within the regulations.

If you become a health professional who is working with athletes, it is entirely possible that you find yourself in a culture of using banned substances with individual athletes or within sporting clubs. Obviously you will be part of a team of people who want the athlete or team to win. You may very well be put in a difficult situation where you have to decide if you want to participate in a “win at all costs” approach or play within the rules. Consequences of assisting athletes with the use of banned substances carry heavy penalties, including de-registration of offending practitioners.

No matter how many regulations there are, some people will always find a way to cheat and think they can get away with it. It’s totally your decision on what you want to do, but as Sports Medicine Australia said in their media release, be prepared to run the gauntlet of the consequences.


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