Doping with legitimate medications

Friday, August 15, 2008

There is a presumption that all performance enhancing drugs are steroids and that they are used to build larger and stronger muscles. But performance enhancement isn’t just faster, higher, stronger. It may be a steady aim and a quiet hand. Jong Su Kim, a Korean marksman was stripped of his medals in Beijing when he failed a drug screen, testing positive for propranolol, a beta blocker.

Not every drug has a stigma attached to it. Beta blockers are commonly prescribed for a variety of medical conditions, from controlling irregular heartbeats to migraine headache prevention, glaucoma and high blood pressure treatment. Beta blocker refers to adrenalin receptors in the body. There are two types of receptors, alpha and beta, located in the heart, along blood vessel walls and in a variety of other organs. They allow adrenalin to work on their target organs and do all the things adrenalin can do.

The action of adrenalin is easy to remember. Think of your body’s reaction should you see a bear in the woods. Your heart starts pounding, your hair stands on end, the sweat starts to pour, your mouth gets dry, your eyes widen and you lose control of your bowels. It’s fight or flight.

Blocking adrenalin makes a big difference when precision is needed. The little shake of the hand may go away. The heart doesn’t pound as hard. The palms don’t get sweaty. And in shooting sports, all these little things add up to a performance advantage and turn a common medication into a banned substance.

It is a small jump from taking medication for its intended purpose to using the same medication for unintended effect. The same can occur with over the counter medicines. Cold medications are prime suspects. Some liquid preparations were abused for their alcohol content. Pseudoephedrine became a key ingredient in manufacture of crystal meth.

On the flipside, come drugs have legitimate uses from cocaine, used to shrink blood vessels in the nose to help control nosebleeds to marijuana which can work fro glaucoma or the nausea induced b chemotherapy.

In sports, the goal is to have an even playing field so that athletes compete against athletes and not against chemists or pharmacists. And for those athletes who need to take medication for legitimate reasons, the ability to obtain an exemption may be a matter of filing a form signed by a family doctor.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of ethics. If an athlete uses performance enhancing drugs, this is an admission that they can’t make the grade on their talent and dedication. For those few who taint public perception, they should try this approach…Play hard. Train harder.

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