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Common medicines can be costly

The little extra pep of a cold pill can leave an athlete out in the snow.

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002

In the NHL, it is not uncommon for a player to take an over-the-counter cold remedy like Sudafed before a game, the theory being that the same mild stimulant that helps relieve a stuffy nose (pseudoephedrine) can improve performance on the ice.

In the Olympics, that seemingly innocuous act could bring down an entire team. Sudafed and similar products are banned by the International Olympic Committee and are easy to detect through urinalysis.

"(Players) are very aware of the issue," Terry Madden, chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, told Agence France Presse. "We got their attention when we told them that if one of them tests positive for an improper cold relief substance, all of the team's gold medals would be returned."

Plenty of easy-to-obtain substances are on the IOC's banned list, including a number of those used by weekend athletes and purchased at nutrition stores. While few are taken as casually as Sudafed, some fall under the Food and Drug Administration's "dietary supplements" classification.

The sports supplement androstenedione, made famous by Mark McGwire, is banned. So is ephedrine, which when used in supplements has more of a kick than anything in Sudafed. It stimulates the heart and nervous system and commonly appears in weight-loss aids and energy boosters, usually combined with caffeine.

The prescription drug Ritalin also is classified as a stimulant and banned by the IOC. Asthmatics must formally notify those who conduct the tests of their need for medication or risk suspension.

Most world-class athletes are well-versed in these rules, or they should be. Still, according to the USADA, well over half of the U.S. athletes with positive drug tests in 2001 had some sort of banned stimulant in their system. Worldwide, a number of positive tests for the steroid nandrolone have been blamed on over-the-counter supplements. The IOC contends an athlete should be responsible for anything he or she ingests.

-- Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

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