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Major League Baseball's new drug of choice is testosterone

From the Mercury News:

Baseball seemed to have cleaned up its act. Players, who once sported cartoonish physiques, were smaller. So were their statistics.

But the recent suspensions of Giants star Melky Cabrera and A's pitcher Bartolo Colon have resurrected feelings of disillusionment among fans and concern that the game has suffered a relapse with performance-enhancing drugs.

It's unclear whether Cabrera and Colon are isolated cases, or the harbinger of another scandal. But anti-doping experts are certain of this much: Old-school synthetic testosterone is creating the new mischief as the drug of choice among athletes willing to cheat.

Testosterone creams and patches created for legitimate medical purposes are being used by unscrupulous athletes as fast-acting performance-enhancers that are difficult to detect. Both Cabrera and Colon received 50-game suspensions after testing positive for elevated levels of testosterone.

"It's a proven performance-enhancer," said Travis Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. "If there was no drug testing, testosterone and its chemical cousins are what athletes would use."

Doping is a scourge that plagues all sports. At the recent London Olympics, a Belarus shot-putter was stripped of her gold medal for using anabolic steroids. And just last week, cyclist Lance Armstrong lost claim to all seven of his Tour de France titles when he announced he would no longer fight the drug-use accusations from the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency that have hounded him for years.

Although the Wild West attitude of steroid use is gone, recent news suggests that a more subtle form of cheating is occurring. Tygart said players no longer will risk using long-lasting designer steroids such as THG, which was at the heart of BALCO's programs, because testers are looking for those.

But as Colon and Cabrera show, some athletes have turned to an old standby: testosterone. It's a naturally produced hormone that builds muscle mass. The synthetic version is used to treat ailments in men who are testosterone-deficient or patients coping with diseases such as AIDS or cancers.

With patches and creams, testosterone can be administered in small doses that allow athletes to derive benefits with the confidence that the drug will be gone from their systems within hours, before a test can detect it.

Posted: 8/29/2012 10:22:00 AM

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Education Needed on Dangers, Prevalence of New Drugs

by Dr. Barry Logan

The news media has documented a growing trend in gruesome and violent “zombie-like” attacks in recent weeks. In Miami, a man was shot and killed by police while eating the face of another man. In Louisiana, a man bit off a chunk of his neighbor’s cheek. A woman in New York attacked her own three-year old child and then attempted to sink her teeth into a police officer. In Texas, a man tried to eat his family’s dog while the animal was still alive.

Shortly after the Miami attack, Pennsylvania Congressman Pat Meehan, a former U.S. Attorney, convened a meeting of local law enforcement, forensic scientists, drug experts, and school officials in Upper Merion, Pa. The goal of the meeting was to discuss the challenges posed by designer drugs such as “bath salts” and synthetic marijuana, also commonly referred to as “fake pot.” Law enforcement officials noted that the biting and the animalistic behavior that occurred in Miami and other recent incidents is a common behavior exhibited by individuals high on bath salts.

The group discussed how these drugs are readily available and freely marketed online as household items like incense, plant food and bath salts. In some cases, they are sold in local neighborhoods at corner markets and gas stations. And although they typically have the disclaimer “not for human consumption” they are produced with the specific intention of being smoked or injected by people looking for a quick high.

A major concern is that the ease with which these drugs can be purchased on the internet has sparked a surge in use among teenagers. A recent study commissioned by the National Institute for Drug Abuse revealed that one in every nine high school seniors (11.4 percent) reported using synthetic marijuana in the prior 12 months. Many teens believe the products are safe, “legal” highs that will not be detected in a routine drug test, and will not arouse parental suspicion. Others appear to believe they are safer alternatives to marijuana and amphetamines such as cocaine, which they are designed to mimic. In reality, they appear to be far more dangerous.

Bath salts are known to cause agitation, paranoia, hallucinations, chest pain, suicidal tendencies, and the animalistic behavior shown in recent violent attacks. Synthetic marijuana poses its own risks because of the way it alters the brain’s chemistry and has been linked to numerous deaths. Last June, police said a teenager jumped off the roof of a mall parking garage in Willow Grove after smoking fake pot.

Given their misleading marketing, heightened availability, and adaptive “legality,” it is not surprising that last year Poison Control Centers received over thirteen thousand human exposure calls regarding synthetic cannabinoids and bath salts. Last year, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration took steps to ban the chemicals used to make these designer drugs. But many manufacturers responded by slightly altering the chemical makeup of the compounds, effectively skirting federal law. This led to a new round of increasingly volatile and dangerous drugs.

As Congressman Meehan and stakeholders discussed, addressing this growing problem requires a multi-pronged effort. From a legislative perspective, instead of reactively banning substances, lawmakers must proactively classify the new non-scheduled substances being constantly reformulated by manufacturers as analogs, making them illegal under federal law. Meehan said this must be accompanied by a focused effort to go after and take down the internet sites that peddle these dangerous drugs.

Similarly, we need a concerted education effort aimed not just at teenagers, but parents as well. They need to be informed about what these substances look like, how they are packaged and marketed, and the negative long and short-term effects of the substances which at best alter brain chemistry, and at worst induce violent behavior, and sometimes even death.

At the same time, we must work to expand our forensic testing capabilities to detect and identify the use of bath salts and synthetic marijuana. If we are able to detect the use of these drugs in blood and urine as easily as we can detect marijuana or cocaine, these synthetic drugs will cease to be an alternative for individuals who are seeking to evade detection in standard drug tests.

These synthetic drugs do not just pose a danger to abusers. They also endanger innocent bystanders, law enforcement, and anyone else an individual high on these substances may come in contact with. It is time to step up and tackle this problem head on.
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Dr. Barry Logan is Director of Forensic and Toxicological Services for NMS Labs, in Willow Grove, Pa. and is President-Elect of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). For more information on synthetic drugs, including a brochure for parents, visit www.nmslabs.com.

Posted: 8/3/2012 1:01:00 PM

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