Drugs have been a problem in our
society for many years. They have been used and abused by many
groups, including professional athletes. It is certainly quite common
to hear about or read about athletes and drug use. Although drugs
have a lengthy history of use by athletes, they have varied effects
on the body and different prevention s.
Much of the world’s supply of
cocaine is produced in South America. Thousands of years ago, the
ancient Incas of Peru chewed coca leaves because they made it
possible for them to work in the high mountains of the land for
longer periods of time. In the 1880’s Bolivian soldiers were given
the drug to help them gain endurance and overcome fatigue. One
hundred years later as many as 90 percent of the natives of the Andes
Mountains in Peru regularly chewed coca leaves. It wasn’t until the
early years of the 20th century that cocaine increased in popularity
among athletes (”Coca”). Cocaine is a naturally occurring
alkaloid, extracted from the leaves of the coca plant. It is an
excellent local anesthetic and a widely abused illicit drug. Cocaine
is an odorless, white powder. The many street names of cocaine
include “coke,” “snow,” “lady,” and “gold dust.”
Street cocaine consists of cocaine hydrochloride that is mixed or
“cut” with a number of other white, powdery substances. These
include procaine and lidocaine, sugars like lactose and dextrose,
stimulants such as dexedrine and caffeine, and other substances
including cornstarch, talcum powder, and flour. Street cocaine today
contains only 12 to 50 percent cocaine hydrochloride. About 100,000
pounds of cocaine are brought into this county each year. Eighty
thousand tons of coca leaf will eventually produce about 200 tons of
Marijuana was first smoked as a
medicine as early as 2737 B.C.E. in China. Marijuana is a mixture of
leaves, stems, and flowering tops of the hemp plant. The hemp plant
has the highest cannabinoid concentration found in the flowering
tops. Marijuana is referred to as grass, pot, tea, or weed. The hemp
plant grows wild through most of the world and can be cultivated in
any area with a hot season. It grows best in central Asia. The main
psychoactive compound in marijuana is delta-9-tetrahydrocannibinal,
better known as THC, a strong hallucinogenic that passes from the
lungs into the blood and the brain. The THC content of marijuana has
increased eight folds in the last few years and some now exceed 10
percent. Hash oil may contain 15 to 30 percent THC. Marijuana is by
far the most frequently used illicit drug in the United States
Steroids are man-made derivatives of
testosterone, the male hormone. For performance enhancement,
anabolic-andogenic steroids are today’s sports drugs of choice.
Steroids are a family of synthetic compounds. Anabolic refers
to the ability of steroids to build
up muscle tissue. Testosterone came into use in the sporting arena by
Russian weight lifters in the 1940’s and 1950’s. In the 1860’s
swimmers were charged with “doping” in Amsterdam. In East Berlin,
young children were removed from their parents at an early age by
government officials. When these children were drilled relentlessly
and were shot up with every new drug to enhance performance. These
children were prepped with wind sprints at six and steroids at 16;
the “sport” vanished from sports (Rosellini 52).
Doctors first used cocaine in the
late 1800’s as an anesthetic. It was also used during this time to
treat fatigue, alcohol, morphine addiction, impotence, stomach
disorders, asthma, and many other complaints including depression.
Despite evidence that cocaine was habit forming, it was an ingredient
in many popular patent medicines and until 1903 it was in Coca-Cola.
Most countries prohibit its use except for limited medical purposes.
Cocaine is the most reinforcing drug around. There are three main
ways to ingest cocaine: snorting, injection, and smoking. Snorting is
the most popular. The user cuts the cocaine into lines and snorts it
through one or both nostrils using a straw or a rolled up piece of
paper. Others inject it directly into the blood stream. Crack is
another type of cocaine. It is a hardened, very addictive form that
may be smoked directly. Cocaine is very expensive. A single dose may
be as little as a quarter of a gram, but it can easily cost $25 on
There are no currently approved uses
for marijuana in the Unites States. However, many doctors obtain THC
from the federal government under special arrangements in order to
prescribe it for cancer patients. THC is effective in reducing the
nausea that cancer patients suffer from. Marijuana may stimulate
appetite. Marijuana may be smoked or taken by mouth. The same dose of
THC is about three times as effective when smoked as when ingested.
Marijuana is smoked in the form of hand-rolled cigarettes, but it is
also smoked in a variety of pipes. After smoking marijuana, the user
has a “high,” including an increased sense of well being,
relaxation, and sleepiness. Most users learn to avoid overdose by
taking only as many inhalations as required to produce the desired
Steroids may have some therapeutic
value. The United States Food and Drug Administration has approved
the use of selected steroids for treating specific types of anemia,
some breast cancers, osteoporosis, endometriosis, and hereditary
angioedema, a rare disease involving the swelling of some parts of
the body. Steroids are used today by young people that are in a hurry
to reach maturity or by someone that hates his skinny body. Most of
all, steroids are used by athletes to build muscle mass. They also
help muscles to recuperate more quickly from exhaustion or injury.
These enable users to train more
frequently and for longer periods of time at a high intensity.
Athletes generally take the drugs in dosages 10 to 100 times greater
than would be prescribed for therapeutic purposes. Furthermore,
athletes often take more than one type of steroid at a time, a
practice known as “stacking.” Steroids may be taken by injection
The list of professional and amateur
athletes who have become involved with cocaine reads like an index.
It is estimated that 40 percent of NFL players regularly use cocaine.
Cocaine is more closely identified with baseball. In January 1986,
twenty-one players had been implicated in a drawn out trial
concerning cocaine sale and use. These players suffered many
penalties, including mandatory drug testing, for the rest of their
careers, the choice of up to one year suspension or the donation of
up to a tenth of a year’s salary to a drug prevention program, and
community service (Meer 14). Cocaine use among baseball players has
increased in recent years, and the drug’s debilitating effects have
tarnished individual performances, shortened careers, and influenced
the outcome of games and pennant races. Tim Raines is a 25 year-old
outfielder for the Montreal Expos. Raines told reporters that using
cocaine hurt his performance. “I struck out a lot more; my vision
was lessened. A lot of times I’d go up to the plate and the balls
were at my head. The umpire would call it a strike and I’d start
arguing. When you’re on drugs, you don’t feel you’re doing
anything wrong.” Raines began using cocaine during the game. He
would keep the little gram bottle in his pocket and if he was about
to steal a base he would slide head first, making sure not to break
the bottle (Meer 24).
Cocaine is not an addictive drug in a
strictly physical sense. The body does not develop a physical
dependence on it nor is there physical withdrawal when a user stops
taking it. Cocaine increases body temperature, heart rate, and blood
pressure, and it curbs the appetite. Prolonged use can cause the
septum, which divides the nostrils, to collapse.
On the other hand, cocaine is
psychologically addictive. Heavy users often come to treat it as an
emotional crutch, exhibiting “behavior dependence.” Users usually
have low self -esteem and suffer spells of depression. This has been
demonstrated in laboratory tests where monkeys starved themselves to
death so as to keep getting cocaine (Worsnop 50).
For a time, most athletes were drawn
to cocaine because of its glamorous aura. That image stemmed largely
from cocaine’s high cost, which gave it a cachet that street drugs
could never posses.
Professional athletes often have more
money and free time than they can handle. E.J. Junior, a linebacker
Cardinals, was hit hard by the deaths
of Len Bias and Don Rogers. Both men died of cocaine overdose. The
deaths made Junior think about his own life and how it could have
been he just as easily. Junior was arrested April 2, 1982 after a
raid on his apartment. He pleaded guilty of possessing cocaine and
served three years probation and a four game NFL suspension,
underwent drug rehabilitation, and began counseling youth groups
about the dangers of cocaine (Gordon 102). Charles White, a Heisman
trophy winner, was tripped out of his mind on August 21, 1987 at
12:10 p.m. in Brea, California. The Los Angeles Rams were to flying
to San Diego that afternoon, but White was going to miss the flight.
White had spent the nine hours from 3 a.m. to noon smoking cocaine
through a pipe in an unlit, abandoned warehouse. White and his friend
were alone, and he felt that many were trying to kill him. He ran out
of the warehouse and grabbed a garbage lid to hold in front of him
like a shield. He ran into a business screaming, “Someone is trying
to kill me!” After about thirty seconds, he ran out and went to a
vacant lot, He then saw five policemen coming at him with guns drawn.
He screamed, “Don’t kill me!” White broke a few tackles before
the cops laid him out. He fought so hard that the handcuffs
permanently scarred both of his wrists. Four months later, White was
in the ProBowl. White traded his handcuffs for a gold Pro Bowl watch
and became the Football News Comeback Player of the Year. Eventually,
White began using cocaine again and in doing so he almost lost his
wife and career. White stopped using once again and he’s taking a
urine test three times a week. He’s staying clean and he’s
playing (Charles White’s Story).
Most people smoke marijuana to
experience euphoric properties, including relaxation, intensification
of perception, and visual fantasies. Some athletes use marijuana
following a sporting event because it allows them to feel relaxed and
at peace. However, marijuana has some immediate negative effects.
Almost immediately after marijuana is smoked, a user’s heart rate
increases up to 50 percent higher than normal. Also the tiny blood
vessels in the eyes dilate, and the whites of the eyes take a reddish
hue. Many people who get high report that they become very hungry or
extremely drowsy within fifteen minutes of smoking marijuana. Smoking
can also cause the throat and mouth to become dry. People under the
influence of marijuana perform poorly on physical tasks.
Marijuana causes many different
mental problems. Marijuana can produce a “chronic cannabis
syndrome.” The syndrome consists of loss of energy, reduced levels
of drive and ambition, apathy, depression, agitation, and
withdrawal from previous interests.
It’s believed that this syndrome can be reversed by abstinence.
Marijuana affects most people
socially too. Marijuana ends more players’ futures than do all
other drugs and alcohol combined (Meer 49). Most of the social
effects stem from the mental effects. The depression and lack of
interest in things affect the user’s socializing ability. Marijuana
is the biggest drug problem in sports.
Despite all the tragic physical
effect steroids have on the body, athletes continue to use it. One of
the most alarming is the threat of AIDS, which can be transmitted if
needles are shared. Some effects, such as rapid weight gain, are easy
to see. Some take place internally and some are irreversible. Males
who take large doses of anabolic steroids typically experience
changes in sexual characteristics. Some possible side effects are;
shrinking of testicles, reduced sperm count, impotence, balding,
difficulty in urinating, development of breasts, and enlarged
prostate. Females may experience masculinization as well as other
problems. They experience growth of facial hair, changes in or
cessation of the menstrual cycle, enlargement of the clitoris,
deepened voice, and breast reduction. Although there are many
different effects on the male and female, both may suffer from acne,
jaundice, trembling, swelling of feet or ankles, and bad breath.
There are also psychological effects
caused by steroids. Many athletes report “feeling good” about
themselves. The user will suffer wide mood swings ranging from
violent periods, even homicidal, episodes known as “roid rages”
to bouts of depression. They also suffer from paranoid jealousy,
extreme irritability, delusions, and impaired judgment stemming from
feelings of invincibility (Lend 24).
A few examples of professional
athletes that use steroids are Brian Bosworth, Arnold Schwarzeneggar,
and John Kordic. American Danny Harris ranked number one in the
hurdles in 1991, failed a drug test, and could be suspended for four
years. The best known case of steroid use is Lyle Alzado. Lyle, the
former defensive end, had an inoperable brain tumor that left his
once-massive body ravaged. He blames years of heavy use of steroids
and human growth hormones, and his shocking demise has left people
wondering if he is the vanguard of a wave of future cancer victims.
Alzado said about 75 percent of the NFL players he faced were on
steroids. Before Lyle died, he could be seen hobbling with the aid of
his wife and wearing a bandana to cover baldness from chemotherapy.
Alzado took steroids almost daily for nearly 20 years. This prolonged
use killed him. Alzado wrote, ” If you’re on steroids, stop. I
should have” (O Brien 19). The most famous suspension for steroid
use was a Canadian sprinter, Ben Johnson. During the 1988 Olympics,
Ben won the 100-meter dash in a world-record 9.79 seconds. He then
his title revoked when he tested
positive after the race.
The main weapon that organized sport
associations possess to protect the health of those who participated
in sports, as well as to ensure that competitions are fair and
natural, is drug testing. Rules and methods of testing vary from
organization to organization, but the means for discovering whether
an athlete has used a prohibited substance are more discerning than
ever. Testing is considered to be a routine in international and
Olympic competitions. Many of the amateur and professional teams try
to detect the use of banned substances use the same tests, some which
cost up to $200 each. Each athlete is asked to give a urine sample in
the presence of a testing official. Urine is used because it is a
bodily fluid that can be obtained with minimum discomfort and it
contains significant amounts of many banned substances for days after
they are ingested. A portion of each sample is passed through an
instrument called a thin-layer chromatograph. Different substances
flow down a glass plate at different rates, according to how they
interact with its specially coated surface. In this way, trained
technicians can isolate and identify many different substances. There
is also a gas chromatograph. This devise vaporizes the urine, then
combines it with chemically inactive gas, and finally passes the
combination over a chemically treated column. This separates the
urine into different components. After the gas has dissipated,
technicians decipher the coloration s left on the column to determine
if any banned substances are present ( Meer 93).
A more accurate but somewhat more
time-consuming test than the gas chromatograph alone is the use of a
mass spectrometer. In this instrument, some of the original urine
sample is vaporized by a gas chromatograph and then ionized
(converted to electrically active forms). By passing the gas through
an electric current and a magnetic field, the different ions can be
separated from each other by weight. Every substance has a unique ”
signature” in the mass spectrometer because it has a characteristic
combination of molecules. By reading the electrical properties of the
ions, it is possible to determine the chemical composition of a
particular sample with great precision.
Using these three techniques, experts
estimates that testers can determine when banned substances are
present about 95 percent of the time. In order to cut down on the
remaining 5 percent of uncertainty, testers may repeat the gas
chromatograph or the mass-spectrometer tests several times. In
unusual circumstances, athletes may be asked to give a sample of
blood, which is analyzed using the same techniques. This is
considered an “invasive” technique (a tester must get a blood
sample directly from an athlete’s vein) and is usually used only if
athletes are suspected of
tampering with the urine sample or of
substituting someone else’s urine for their own.
A fourth technique for drug testing
also shows great promise. The EMIT (enzyme multiplied immunoassay
technique) test may eventually prove more accurate than either the
gas chromatograph or the mass spectrometer. The substance that is
being tested for (THC or cocaine) is injected into an animal in order
to provoke its immune system into producing antibodies. An antibody
is a substance produced by animals (including humans) that attacks a
specific substance invading the body. These antibodies are collected,
purified, and placed into a substance that allows them to remain
active outside the animal’s body. This constitutes the testing
substance, which is then combined with a sample of the urine from an
athlete to be tested. If the urine contains a banned drug, an
immediate and visible reaction occurs. Because the body responds with
a unique antibody for each threatening substance, it is possible to
test with great accuracy for the presence of a specific substance.
EMIT is emerging, for example, as the most sensitive test for the use
Some drugs stay in the body longer
than others. Recognizable by-products of the active ingredient in
marijuana can remain in the urine for up to 10 days after smoking,
for example, while long-term users of marijuana may show traces of
THC substances into which it is broken down up to 30 days after the
last use. Cocaine, on the other hand, is usually completely
eliminated from the body three days after being used (Meer 95).
In 1982 the NFL Players’
Association and team owner adopted a procedure calling for all
players to undergo a mandatory drug test before the season starts, as
part of the normal preseason physical. If a NFL player tests positive
for a banned substance or if the team doctor has reasonable cause to
believe any player is using drugs, tests may be ordered during the
season. If a player is found to using a banned substance, he is
required to undergo drug counseling. Since then, the testing
procedure has changed in some ways. Now, each player must take at
least three urine tests per season- one at the beginning of the
season and two other at unscheduled times.
In 1986, on opening day of baseball
season it was announced that players would take four drug tests each
year for cocaine, marijuana, and the narcotics heroin and morphine.
Some athletes feel that drug testing is violating their Civil Rights.
Although, testing does intrude on a person’s right to privacy,
guaranteed to all Americans, if an athlete wants to participate they
have to be tested (Meer 104).
The best treatment for drug abuse is
prevention. The process for treating an addict is usually divided
into two stages. The first is “detox.” During this period of a
few days (that can sometimes stretch to a few weeks), drug users stop
taking the drug or drugs that they have become accustomed and are
helped through any overdose complication or withdrawal symptoms they
may suffer. The second phase of treatment usually involves
psychotherapy. Some therapy takes place in a psychiatrist’s office.
The therapists help users understand the nature of their problem and
how it has come to run their lives. Therapists are responsible for
helping addicts plan their own recovery strategy, to set up specific
goals and expectations for themselves. This sometimes means dealing
with other problems-such as abnormal sexuality, poor care for
oneself, lack of assertiveness, uncontrolled impulses, and
impotence-that sometimes accompany drug addiction. It is important to
remember that treating other problems may not eliminate drug abuse
and resolution of these problems is not essential for a drug-free
state. Eventually, the therapist and user will have to deal with
The setting for a rehabilitation
treatment is usually a medical institution of some kind. One of the
best drug-abuse treatment facilities in the country for athletes is
the Hazelden-Cork Center in Minnesota. Hazleton-Cork sponsors a
series of workshops, clinics, and education programs for coaches,
trainers, and athletes. The Hazelden Foundation was founded in 1949
and is internationally known for its efforts in chemical dependence,
training, education, therapy, and research. In 1984 Cork and Hazelden
jointly established a $6.9 million state-of-the-art facility in
Center City, Minnesota, for the treatment and education of drug
abusers. There athletes can learn to cope with life without relying
on alcohol and drugs.
In 1981 Operation Cork created a
drug-treatment program for the San Diego Padres. Since then Cork has
established similar programs for a variety of companies,
institutions, and organizations. They established a program called
“Employee Assistance Program,” or EAP. Any player with a drug
problem may, without penalty or cost, refer himself to professional
treatment and counseling, put in place by the team. In August 1986
the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported on
480 companies in six states that have EAPs covering more than three
million employees. According to studies, a high rate of employees
with drug problems returned to their jobs.
Within twelve months after going into
treatment programs, an average of 70 percent of the cases, or 8,553
employees, with drug problems were back on the job and performing
adequately. Other sources of treatment for
those with substance abuse problems
are self-help groups such a Narcotics Anonymous. However, addiction
is cruelly tenacious, and no form of treatment has anything but a
limited rate of success. Drug abuse costs the businesses of the
United States at least $85 million every year in lost productivity.
Thus, there is a drug problem among
professional athletes today. Although, it has existed for many years
due to a variety of circumstances efforts are being made to eradicate
its use by making people aware of the harmful effects that drugs can
have. Many athletes need to learn to say “no,”
for the price of not saying “no,”
is the highest price of all.
“Anabolic Steroids.” NIDA:
Research Report Series 1991:1-9.
“Charles White’s Story.” Sports
Illustrated 29 Aug. 1988:52-57.
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