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Drug Testing in Sport

 

Drug testing has become an increasingly large part of both professional and amateur sports. An athlete can be called for drug testing at any time, in or out of competition. During competition, some sports only carry out drug testing on the winning team or top three competitors. Others will test by random selection from all competitors.

Urine Testing

When called for a drugs test the athlete is entitled to have a representative (such as their coach or team doctor) present to verify that the testing occurred in accordance to guidelines. A sample is provided (in view of an official of the same gender) and split into two bottles and sealed by the athlete. A code number will be attached to the bottle and recorded on the relevant paperwork to ensure the correct result is given to the athlete whilst retaining their anonymity.

Following the sampling procedure the athlete must complete a medical declaration which states all medicines, drugs and substances taken over the last week. It is important that the athlete records everything, from over-the-counter medicines, to supplements and prescribed drugs. If any of these substances are on the prohibited list the athlete must hold a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE). The competitor, representative and official all check the form before the official and athletete sign it and both parties are given a copy.

The samples are then sent to a registered laboratory (if there is not one on site) where sample A is tested using gas chromatography (which uses separation techniques to divide the contents of the sample) and mass spectrometry (which provides the exact molecular specification of the compounds). If a positive result is found with sample A, the athlete is notified before sample B is also tested. The athlete or their representative is entitled to be present at the unsealing and testing of the second sample. If this too is positive, the relevant sporting organisations are notified whose responsibility it is to decide what penalties or bans are to be imposed.

Blood Testing

Blood testing is used in the detection of drugs such as EPO and artificial oxygen carriers by testing the haematocrit or blood count. Over time a "blood profile" of an athlete can be built up to help determine average readings for each individual. This can help with blood doping tests in the future. The same anonymity and representative procedures apply as for urine sampling.

Again the athlete is asked to select and check the testing and collection equipment before a phlebotomist (an individual trained to draw blood) collects two samples of blood directly into bottles A and B. The bottles stay in the possession of the athlete (who is always accompanied by an official) until they are sealed in the sample collection kit. Samples are sent to a lab for testing. The same procedure applies as in urine testing, where if the A sample is positive, the B sample is then tested. Another positive result means the appropriate governing bodies are notified.

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