Baseball team owners, players and fans seem to agree on the importance of drug testing for steroids, according to current reports, but the entire scope of performance-enhancing substances available for all athletes is vastly broader and many of the drugs employed by athletes are not easily detectable, says a Penn State researcher.”The use, misuse and abuse of drugs have long shaken the foundations of amateur and professional sports–baseball, football, track and field, gymnastics and cycling, to name just a few,” says Dr. Charles Yesalis, Penn State professor of exercise and sport science and health policy and administration. “The problem is not new. But like the rest of technology, doping in sport has grown in scientific and ethical complexity. In addition to drugs, we have natural hormones, blood doping, diuretics, nutritional supplements, social and recreational drugs, stimulants and miscellaneous substances, some of which may not even be on any list of banned substances.”

While drug testing technology struggles to keep up, an array of new and emerging technologies has arrived or is on the horizon with potential for abuse by athletes including gene transfer therapy, stem cell transplantation, muscle fiber phenotype transformation, red blood cell substitutes and new drug delivery systems, says Yesalis

“It is not too hard to imagine the day when muscles can be selectively enlarged or contoured,” according to the book. “Just imagine the consequences of a kinesiologist isolating specific muscles and selectively injecting designer genes into those muscles to maximize their function.”

The new book brings together the latest and most comprehensive scientific information about performance-enhancing substances, as well as discussion of drug testing, legal and social issues, and future directions by sports governing organizations.

“Sport has a responsibility to maintain a level playing field for the trial of skill,” Yesalis says. “The use of chemical and pharmacologist agents is cheating – just like using a corked baseball bat. But unlike the bat, doping is shrouded in mystery. Athletes and their advisors are constantly seeking ‘gray areas” surrounding the rules, and if something is not explicitly banned, then why not try it. This slippery slope of rationalization is treacherous and appealing to a player or team seeking glory and money rewards.”

In one chapter, “Drug Testing and Sport and Exercise,” author R. Craig Kammerer suggests that improvement in current tests and developments in new methods will assist future policymaking by athletic federations. However, effective testing must become more widespread and include unannounced testing outside of competition. Sanctions against athletes must be more fairly and uniformly applied, with thorough investigation to avoid false positive results and ruin an athlete’s career.

The difficulty of detecting and preventing the abuse of performance enhancing substances by adult athletes may seem futile but remains necessary as part of the effort to discourage abuse by youths who emulate professional athletes and also seek a winning advantage, Yesalis notes.

A recent government study of adolescent drug use shows an alarming increase in anabolic steroid use among middle school youths from 1998-1999 with an estimated 2.7 percent of eighth graders saying they have used the drugs. A larger survey by Blue Cross and Blue Shield estimates that one million U.S. children between the ages of 12 and 17 may have taken performance-enhancing substances including creatine, according to the book.

“Children and teens can seriously harm their future health by misusing these substances,” Yesalis says. “For example, steroids alone can cause scarring acne, hair loss and testicular atrophy, and may increase the risk of stroke and heart disease. It is just as important to note that little is known about the health consequences of many of the other substances used to enhance performance. Yet some coaches and parents look the other way and even actively encourage the use of performance-enhancing substances in pursuit of scholarships and winning.

“There is too much fame and fortune to be gained by being a winner in sports,” he notes. “It’s interesting to see that baseball fans being polled support drug testing and a ban on steroids, but it will take fans of all major sports to take a stand by turning off their TV sets or not buying a ticket to sports events before adult athletes, coaches and team owners stop trying to cheat. And, that’s probably not going to happen.”

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Article adapted by MD Sports Weblog from original press release.
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Contact: Vicki Fong
Penn State

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