Doping Battle Aims to Win Kids' Hearts 

Doping Battle Aims to Win Kids' Hearts 
Posted by FoM on January 16, 2000 at 10:35:27 PT
By Christopher Smith, The Salt Lake Tribune
Source: Salt Lake Tribune
The federal government's fight against drug abuse is spilling onto a new battlefield, expanding from the coca fields of South America to the soccer fields of middle America.   This week, President Clinton will begin assembling a national task force to address the growing problem of performance-enhancing drugs in sport. 
Keyed by federal drug czar Gen. Barry McCaffrey's vow to ensure the Salt Lake 2002 Olympics are drug free, the new campaign will strive to discourage a chemical competitive edge from the pros to Little League.   Elite athletes who use muscle-popping or endurance-enhancing drugs to wring more out of their bodies have dominated the debate over doping. Last week, after a year of badgering the International Olympic Committee, the United States joined in partnership with other nations and international sport here to effect what White House advisers call a "sea change" in attitude toward drug-free sport.   Now, the United States will launch its own independent athletic drug-testing agency this year in conjunction with the U.S. Olympic Committee and invest $3 million in doping research while helping steer the new international World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) founded by the IOC.   But the ultimate target for McCaffrey and the White House has always been the young people who look up to professional and Olympic competitors as role models. "Our priority will be to focus on U.S. national athletes, U.S. amateur athletes, with the understanding that our children [are] our primary concern," he says.   "This threat is no longer confined to a mere handful of elite athletes. Children, some as young as 12 years old, are turning to drugs to gain an upper hand in contests where only a gold-painted plastic trophy is at stake."   As McCaffrey last year urged the Olympic movement to do a better job of eliminating doping from the Games, the United States' own inadequacy in achieving drug-free sports was constantly pointed out.   "There is an enormous [disparity] between the views expressed in relation to the Olympic movement and those that prevail in professional sport in your country," IOC Vice President Dick Pound -- now the head of WADA -- wrote to McCaffrey in October. "In the latter, performance-enhancing drugs are widely used and apparently regularly tolerated."   Hero Users: Perhaps the most blatant American example of endowing hero status to a doper is Major League Baseball home-run record holder Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals. While slugging out the new record, McGwire used the strength-boosting chemical Androstenedione, which is classified as a food supplement even though the body metabolizes Andro into testosterone, a steroid.   Although McGwire has said he no longer uses Andro, sales of the supplement have leapt five-fold since last year. It is sold to anyone at nutrition stores, gyms and Internet sites without a prescription or parental consent.   "Mark McGwire, one of our most famous and talented and dedicated athletes, used Andro, a drug, while he established a national record in home-run hits," says McCaffrey. "That drug was not in violation of current professional baseball standards, yet it was a banned substance for Olympic competition. We simply have to do better."   The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is evaluating Andro to determine if it produces muscle growth, which could lead to it being classified as a steroid.   Steroid use by young people can seriously impair future development, leading to androgenizing of females, feminization of males, liver damage, heart disease and permanently stunted growth.   Why the Drugs?: What is the appeal of steroids? Beyond artificially buffing up muscles for a physically fit appearance, the drugs' effect on athletic performance is undeniable. For instance, East German researchers during the Cold War found that administering steroids to female athletes over a four-year period resulted in a 4- to 5-meter boost in shot-put distance, 4 to 5 seconds faster in the 400-meter run and 7 to 8 seconds faster in the 800-meter run.   With an estimated 400,000 U.S. youngsters now trying steroids, the White House fears a long-term health care crisis in the making. Yet advisers also are wary about a campaign that could lead to pulling the sneakers off some of America's biggest sports heros to learn they have clay feet. To many spectators, sports is a religion.   Are we ready to hear that our anointed deities are dopers?   "So-called public opinion is not viscerally concerned with doping offenses," says University of Texas researcher and author John Hoberman. "Most people care more about the fact the athlete won than the fact the athlete doped."   At the same time, few can argue that doping is ethically wrong. White House advisers hope to turn around attitudes that seem to say, "If you're not cheating, you're cheating yourself."   "It is no secret that one of our great movie stars, when it was legal, used drugs and became head of the President's Council on Physical Fitness: Arnold Schwarzenegger," says former sports broadcaster and U.S. gold medal Olympic swimmer Donna de Varona, an adviser to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. "It was not illegal to use these things and he thinks it's wrong and he said it once, [but] he's not going to talk about it anymore. I would prefer him to talk about it because he has health issues now and maybe they are not related, but I would like Arnold to say something."   As an ABC-TV reporter covering the swimming events at the Olympics, de Varona says she ran headlong into the mindset of unacknowledged doping.   "We were covering lies," she says. "I saw Janet Evans win against cheaters and yet had to be quiet about the truth. I remember feeling that way when I went to the Soviet Union. Is that what is going to happen in our sporting environment, where you can't speak out and be honest without being labeled a crybaby?"  Lessening Demand: Broadening America's drug-abuse effort from Colombian cartels to the shopping mall stores peddling dietary supplements comes as demand for illicit drugs has plummeted in the United States.   Overall drug use has declined 50 percent the past two decades, cocaine use is down 70 percent, and among youth ages 12-17 the use of inhalants -- such as marijuana -- was down 45 percent in 1998.   At the same time, however, there has been a sharp rise among U.S. kids in acceptance and use of easily available performance- and appearance-enhancing drugs.   A 1999 survey by Blue Cross Blue Shield's Healthy Competition Foundation found one-in-four young people personally know someone using performance-boosting substances. Another survey in Massachusetts found 3 percent of girls ages 9 to 13 have used steroids. That is the same percentage as the number of kids ages 12-17 who have tried cocaine.  Beyond Steroids: Steroids aren't the only performance-enhancing drug with youth appeal. Gymnasts have been using various "brake drugs" that put the skids on sexual development, allowing them to retain narrower hips and smaller breasts for competition. In a society that teaches kids winning is everything, McCaffrey says performance-drug abuse has become "an enormous problem" for the United States.   "We have no rules, we have no common commitment, in some cases there is no code and in some cases the code is not being followed," he says. "We have to have sensible national legislation dealing with these performance-enhancing drugs."   That charge could fall to Utah's senior U.S. senator, Republican Orrin Hatch, who has become a champion of the dietary supplement industry and protected it from what he views as excessive government regulation.   "I have given him a specific solution, which is politically doable, and I have testified to it, but nobody has been able to get Hatch to address this issue," says New York University sports medicine expert and author Gary Wadler. "All you need to do is take this $6 billion supplement industry and lift out the steroid-based supplement products and make them a prescriptive drug. That would guarantee safety, it would guarantee efficacy and most importantly guarantee purity."   Hatch spokesman Paul Smith says that in passing the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, the senator "attempted to put appropriate regulations" on dietary supplements.   "Therefore, it is the responsibility of the Food and Drug Administration to pursue any product said to be unsafe," says Smith. "And Hatch supports strong action by the FDA to seek such products."    Review Needed: However, McCaffrey issued a report in October calling for a review of the supplement act to ensure that it indeed protects the health of athletes and young people, and that such a review should be completed before the Salt Lake Games.   Another major problem with U.S. law is that the Controlled Substances Act covers "anabolic steroids," leaving a host of other performance drugs -- such as clenbuterol and erythropoietin -- uncontrolled and open to abuse.   Wadler argues a simple amendment changing the wording from anabolic "steroid" to anabolic "agent" could substantially close the gap.   Meanwhile, Congress has failed to act on DEA and Department of Justice reports dating back five years that complain "current provisions of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines establish grossly inadequate sentencing standards for steroid traffickers."   In the last two years, DEA authorities broke up an operation in Dallas that was smuggling steroids from Mexico into local high schools, uncovered a Pittsburgh business illegally selling steroids from Thailand over the Internet and arrested 15 members of the Russian mafia in New York after smuggling two tons of steroids into the United States.   Many maintain this is just the start of a new American drug craze.   "The future in the field of doping is clearly unknown, because we're at the beginning of a brave new world with blood substitutes, genetic manipulation, new drugs and new technologies," says Wadler. "Modern science is growing at such an exponential rate, soon steroids are going to look like the Model-T Ford."   Lausanne, SwitzerlandPublished: January 16, 2000 Copyright 2000, The Salt Lake TribuneRelated Articles: Salt Lake May Host IOC Drug Agency Meeting - 1/07/2000 Czar Ruffles IOC Feathers - 12/15/99 Czar Changes Tune On IOC Testing - 12/02/99 To Call for Pound's Removal at IOC - 11/17/99
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Comment #1 posted by Raymond Dart on May 01, 2000 at 19:02:21 PT:
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