The Sports Archives – Drug Testing: How Do Athletes Get Caught?

Advances in science and technology have transformed the way we live our lives. In laboratories across the globe, scientists are on a quest to heal our ailments and help us to live longer. In doing so, they are finding ways to help us to become superhuman – a fate many athletes aspire to achieve. By discovering new uses for drugs originally designed for other purposes, scientists are providing athletes with the opportunity to enhance their performance beyond that achieved through their daily training. The use of drugs to enhance physical performance, mask the pain of injuries or cope with the pressures of daily life is known as doping, and it provides an athlete with an unfair advantage. Athletes are banned from doping. However, a small minority choose not to play by the rules.

Which Banned Drugs Are The Most Commonly Used?

There are five main doping classes, which are categories of banned substances. They include:

1) Stimulants, which increase an athlete’s alertness, improve their concentration, enhance their reaction times and mask the effects of fatigue;

2) Anabolic agents, which help athletes to train harder and improve their muscle mass;

3) Diuretics, which remove fluids from the body and can be used to control weight and/or conceal the use of other drugs;

4) Narcotic analgesics, which mask the pain associated with injuries and enable athletes to continue to compete beyond the limits imposed by their normal pain threshold;

5) Peptides and hormones, examples of which include erythropoietin (EPO), which increases the amount of oxygen-carrying red blood cells in the bloodstream, and human growth hormone (HGH), which helps to build muscle.

How Do Scientists Test Athletes For Banned Drugs?

A range of tests can be used to screen athletes for banned drugs. They include:

Urine Drug Screening
Urine can be collected in a secure cup and analysed with a machine. If the test proves positive, the result can be confirmed with a gas-chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) test. Urine testing can detect the use of a range of drugs, including narcotic analgesics, for up to three days following drug use.

Hair Testing
Stands of hair plucked from the scalp can be used to detect drug metabolites, which are created when a drug is broken down within the body. Hair testing can detect the use of drugs such as cannabis and cocaine, and can provide a 90-day history of drug use.

Saliva Screening
Saliva screening can be used to detect the presence of drugs such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), alcohol and marijuana. This test can only detect drug use during the previous 36 hours.

Sweat Screening
Patches attached to the skin can collect sweat over a 14-day period. These patches can be tested for drugs and drug metabolites, which are removed from the body in sweat. Sweat screening is suitable for use when urine testing is impractical.

Blood Testing
Blood sample measurements can be used to determine whether or not a specific drug or metabolite is present in the body at a particular time. This test can detect anabolic steroids, such as testosterone, and peptide hormones, such as erythropoietin and growth hormones. While the concentration of drugs in the bloodstream decreases over time, blood tests can detect most drugs within 30 days of use.

What Are The Consequences Of Doping?

A panel of sporting officials review positive doping test results. If an athlete tests positive for banned substances, they risk losing a percentage of their competitive season. While an athlete is allowed to train during this time frame, they will not be allowed to compete for medals. If an athlete tests positive for banned substances more than once, they may be banned from competition for a whole season and may lose their sponsorship deals. In some cases, they may receive a lifetime ban from competition.

Many athletes have been found guilty of doping offences. The American road-racing cyclist Lance Armstrong recently made headline news for his alleged use of banned substances, including steroids and EPO hormone. He received a lifetime ban from cycling from the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). The British track sprinter Dwain Chambers has also failed doping tests and later admitted to the use of the anabolic steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) and the hormones EPO and insulin, amongst many other substances. As a result of his actions, UK Athletics barred him from competing in several major international competitions between 2006 and 2012.

While many feel that the act of drug testing is an invasion of an athlete’s privacy, performance-enhancing drugs are not only associated with numerous health risks but also compromise the fairness of competitive sports. The use of banned substances does not only put the user in danger but can indirectly harm other athletes. It is for these reasons that drug testing will continue to evolve and remain at the forefront of sport in the coming years.

Featured images:

Written by Matt Higgins, a student of forensic science and enthusiastic writer.

Related Blogs:

Did Lance Armstrong Deserve to be Stripped of his Titles?
Insanely Disappointing ‘Hero’ Athletes!
Alcohol and Athletics – How Much is Too Much?

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2 Responses to The Sports Archives – Drug Testing: How Do Athletes Get Caught?

  1. Pingback: The Sports Archives – Sports Helps Curb Drug Abuse In Young Men! | The Sports Archives Blog

  2. Pingback: The Sports Archives – Tarnished Glory: Alex Rodriguez’s Doping Mess! | The Sports Archives Blog

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