Doping – using drug or blood products to improve athletic performance – has now become a public health problem, and not just a sporting one, experts explained at an anti-doping conference organized by the Arne Ljungqvist Foundation.

Dr. Timothy Armstrong, who works at WHO (World Health Organization) explained that about 3% of high school boys in America regularly take growth hormones or steroids. This amounts to a very large number of people and is definitely a public health problem, he added.

Dr. Armstrong said:

“Substance abuse in any shape or form has a physical and mental health aspect to it. The WHO, being the lead UN (United Nations) agency on health matters, takes this issue quite seriously.”

Dr. Arne Ljungqvist, the Foundation’s creator, agreed that doping has reached a scale that threatens public health. He hopes this conference may convince everybody that doping is no longer just a problem that exists in the Olympics or other major international events.

Ljungqvist said “This is a first attempt to highlight this matter as a public health issue, which in my view it is. “Elite sport plays an obvious role. They are the role models of youngsters and if they are drug takers, that is not the right role model for the coming society. “I am so happy today to see these international authorities coming together and sharing these concerns that are being expressed and I hope that we can find common ways to deal with them.”

David Howman, Director General of WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency), said that events which occur among top athletes often have a knock-on effect that spreads into wider society. He emphasized the need for agencies, organizations and health care professionals to share information if we really want to reign in the doping problem.

Howman said:

“What we have learned in the last 10 years is that there is a trickle-down effect into recreational sports and into the high schools. In Australia now, the customs people share their information with the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency (ASADA), and already 40 percent of their anti-doping rule violations come from that sort of information. That’s a very good example of how it can work when people work together.”

An anti-doping drive, which occurred before the 2012 London Olympics, revealed several cases of doping, Howman said. The Anti-Doping Agency of the UK shared data with the police and customs authorities – these data were then forwarded to the International Olympic Committee. The Olympic Games’ anti-doping program was based mainly on that data.

The sharing of information between the various UK authorities led to several discoveries of doping in the out-of-competition phase.

Each organization, Howman explained, has only a small slice of the data cake and can only work on their own up to a limited point. However, if all the agencies, such as UNESCO, WADA, WHO, customs, police and the IOC joined forces, the chances of beating the growing doping problem is much more feasible.

Homan mentioned the UNESCO Anti-Doping Convention, which 172 nations subscribed to, and how national governments could align their domestic policies with the Code. It is important that rules around the world regarding anti-doping in sport become harmonized.

Pilar Alvarez-Laso, the assistant Director General of UNESCO, said that as UNESCO and WADA join together at the international levels, this plague which harms athletes and undermines the fair-play of sports may be eliminated. Doping practices can cause serious harm to the credibility of sport.

Alvarez-Laso says it is crucial that young people be educated on the moral, legal and health consequences of doping.

Ex-chairman of the WADA List Committee, Dr. Gary Wadler, explained in the conference who decides what doping is, and how. He said that there is a Prohibited List.

For a method or substance to be considered for the Prohibited list, it must match two or more of the criteria below:

  • It may enhance performance, or sports performance
  • It may be hazardous to health
  • Using it violates the spirit of sport

Prohibited substances or methods banned from the Olympics include:

  • Banned androgenic agents
  • Beta blockers
  • Beta-2 agonists
  • Blood doping
  • Diuretics and masking agents
  • Endogenous anabolic androgenic steroids
  • Erythropoiesis-stimulating agents
  • Exogenous anabolic androgenic steroids
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Hormone antagonists and modulators
  • Hormones and related substances
  • Metabolites and isomers
  • Narcotics and cannabinoids
  • Other anabolic agents
  • Stimulants
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Professor Arne Ljungqvist

Professor Arne Ljungqvist (born 1931), from Stockholm, Sweden, is a medical researcher as well as an ex-member of Sweden’s Olympic team in 1952. He was Sweden’s high jump champion. Prof. Ljungqvist left competitive sports to complete his medical training.

Prof. Ljungqvist is an internationally respected and famous doping hunter, and has been working actively worldwide in the fight against doping in sports for the last four decades. He is a member of the IOC and is vice-chairman of the WADA.

Researchers from Umea University, Sweden, found that power lifters who used to take anabolic steroids years ago, but no longer do, experienced changes in their shoulders and quadriceps which gave them advantages that still persisted. In other words, the unfair advantage offered by anabolic steroids continues for many years after the athlete has stopped using them.

Anabolic steroids are synthetic hormones derived from the human male hormone testosterone.

Written by Christian Nordqvist