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Senate Hearing on Steroid Use Focuses More on Performance-Enhancing Supplements

WASHINGTON--A Senate committee hearing met June 18 to discuss athletes, and the use of steroids and performance-enhancing supplements a few weeks after Sports Illustrated quoted former Most Valuable Player Ken Caminiti as having been on steroids when he won Major League Baseball's (MLB) prestigious award.

In a subcommittee hearing entitled, "Steroid Use in Professional Baseball and Anti-Doping Issue in Amateur Sport," Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), chairman of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Affairs, Foreign Commerce and Tourism, set the tone of the meeting by announcing, "what was once a `field of dreams' may deteriorate into a quagmire of controlled substances like muscle-building steroids and human growth hormone."

Those who spoke at the meeting included a baseball team's managing general partner, a representative from MLB, a representative for the baseball commissioner, the chairman of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), a pediatrician and a former college football player turned associate high school principal.

Jerry Colangelo, managing general partner of the 2001 World Series Champion Diamondbacks, stuck to the issue of steroids, saying "...the implementation of a comprehensive, mandatory steroid testing program would go far towards addressing this serious problem." Presently, the MLB does not conduct mandatory athlete drug tests.

Donald Fehr, executive director of the MLB Players Association (MLBPA), reported his organization does not condone the use by players of unlawful substances such as steroids, or the unlawful use of legal substances such as DHEA and androstenedione (andro). "As we have suggested in Steroids and Nutrition Supplements [a brochure distributed to players regarding MLBPA policy], it may well be time for the federal government to revisit whether such products should also be covered by Schedule III [covering steroid drugs]," Fehr said. "We would welcome such a re-examination by Congress and/or FDA."

In a statement by Robert Manfred, Jr., executive vice president of labor and human resources for MLB, baseball Commissioner Allan Selig began an initiative two years ago to address problems with steroids and nutritional supplements. Team physicians reported that since the passage of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA), nutritional products such as andro could be marketed without the restrictions imposed by the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990. Manfred cited a 2000 study (JAMA, 283, 6:779-82) commissioned by MLBPA and conducted at Harvard in which andro, at sufficient quantities, elevated testosterone levels in the body "in the same manner as an anabolic steroid."

Frank Shorter, chairman of the USADA, stated, "In the current sport environment, the availability of steroid precursors as dietary supplements is of major concern. ... Through our testing program, USADA has recognized a serious problem with the sale of steroid precursors in dietary supplements. In increasing numbers, athletes are failing doping tests after taking mislabled dietary supplements ... [containing] doping substances, which are not disclosed on the label." He added that the international sporting community believes that U.S. companies are the primary source of "international doping pollution," a charge that is grounded in the International Olympic Committee's recent study that found 41 percent of tested products from the United States contained a banned substance or steroid precursor which was not disclosed on the label.

"The solution to the steroid precursor problem is to follow the lead of other nations and regulate steroid precursors as steroids," Shorter said. "This could be accomplished through a minor modification of the Controlled Substances Act. ... With only a minor modification to the Act ... the attorney general would have the authority to classify steroid precursors as controlled substances equal to steroids."

The subcommittee also listened to a physician discuss recent research that found males and females as young as 10 years old may use anabolic androgenic steroids (2.6 percent), as well as former college football player Greg Schwab's first-hand account with using steroids and supplements. "I have always believed that dietary supplements can lead athletes to using performance-enhancing drugs like anabolic steroids," he said. "I cannot stress enough how easy it is to get supplements. ... Drug stores, supermarkets and health foods stores all carry these supplements and they can be purchased by anyone." However, Schwab's math did not quite add up when he went on to say that approximately 70 percent of the athletes he coaches uses performance-enhancing supplements, while he estimates between 5 percent and 10 percent have used steroids.

In written testimony, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) submitted comments to the subcommittee about steroids and performance-enhancing supplements. "CRN shares the committee's concerns over [the illegal use of steroids]," wrote John Cardellina, Ph.D., vice president of botanical science and regulatory affairs. "CRN does recognize that there are two tangible concerns about legal dietary supplements containing steroid hormone precursors: 1) the potential impact of steroid hormone precursors on young athletes still in the process of sexual maturation; and 2) the possibility that the use of such products might result in positive tests for substances banned by some athletic governing bodies." CRN is currently developing guidelines for sport supplement usage by athletes of all ages.

"This hearing is reviewing the availability and use of illegal steroids, and CRN affirms that a distinction needs to be made between these unacceptable entities and legal dietary supplements," Cardellina added. He told INSIDER that the Senate members in charge of the meeting did not attempt to reign in what turned out to be a long discussion on performance-enhancing supplements. "We need to be ready as an industry for any follow-up hearings that may occur on these supplements," he said.

For more on the testimony presented at this meeting, visit commerce.senate.gov/hearings/hearings0202.htm.

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