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Drugs and Athletes

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 cocaine (”Coca”).

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 (Marijuana).

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 the street.

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 “high.”

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 or orally.

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 for the

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 had

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 of marijuana.

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 relapse.

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.

Works Cited

“Anabolic Steroids.” NIDA: Research Report Series 1991:1-9.

“Charles White’s Story.” Sports Illustrated 29 Aug. 1988:52-57.

“Coca.” World Book Encyclopedia. 1990 ed.

Lend, Joe. “Drug Abuse.” Reader’s Digest Jan. 1987:24-25.

“Marijuana.” World Book Encyclopedia. 1990 ed.

Meer, Jeff. Drugs and Sports. New York: McMillan House 1990.

Olshevsky, Boris. “Stopping an Athlete Killer.” Soviet Life July 1991:52-54.

Rosellini, Lynn. “The Sports Factories.” U.S. News and World Report 17 Feb. 1992:48.

Worsnop, Richard. “Athletes and Drugs.” CQ Researcher 26 July 1991:513.


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