Blog: ASADA's role in supplements education

21 May 2015

Last night a story aired on ABC TV news in Perth about supplements. While the story raised the important issue of supplement use in sports, it would have left some viewers with a false impression of the work ASADA does in this area.

Part of the story referred to the lack of information about supplements on our website. Our website has offered athletes and the wider sporting community with ASADA’s clear position on supplements for many years. It also provides advice to athletes about how they might reduce their risk if they choose to use a supplement.

The story also gave the false impression that ASADA does not have the resources to educate athletes about supplements and wants other agencies to help. When coupled with the overall theme of the story, we again believe this statement is somewhat misleading to those who watched the news bulletin.

ASADA has in place an anti-doping education program that provides learning opportunities for all members of the Australian sporting community. Supplements education is a key component of nearly every education session or resource ASADA has. However, it cannot be an ASADA issue alone. Billions of dollars are spent world-wide on supplements marketing, so it is important that we partner with sports and the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) to deliver appropriate supplement messages to athletes.

ASADA’s online education course, which includes a module dedicated to supplements, has had 20,000 completions since launching in 2011. We have also had 9,000 completions of additional learning updates about supplements which circulated in 2011 and 2013.

Every face-to-face education session we conduct includes the topic of supplements. It generates the most interest and discussion from participants, which have numbered in their tens of thousands.

In the past six months we have had five articles about the dangers of supplements posted to our Learning Management System (LMS) which has 31,000 registered users.

We have filmed a number of interviews with athletes and AIS experts on the dangers of supplements. These videos are promoted via our LMS, social media channels and national sporting organisation networks.

Another key resource for athletes is ASADA’s Check Your Substances online tool. While the tool cannot talk about supplements directly, anyone searching for a supplement is directed to information on our website. The tool also enables athletes to find out whether the most commonly prescribed, over-the-counter and complementary medicines in Australia are permitted or prohibited in their sport. Almost 85,000 visits were made to the online resource in 2013-14.

ASADA also provides athletes and support personnel with a telephone advice service. This service complements the online Check Your Substances tool by allowing individuals to check the status of certain substances and methods. Anyone calling about supplements is provided with information consistent with messages on our website. ASADA responded to 1,621 telephone enquiries specific to supplements in 2013–14.

When the situation warrants it, ASADA has taken the dramatic steps of publicly cautioning athletes if it has detected disturbing trends in relation to doping violations linked to supplement products.

In 2010 ASADA issued a national warning to athletes to carefully consider their use of supplements following nine positive test results for the prohibited stimulant methylhexaneamine. Since this time ASADA has been vigilant in alerting athletes to issues arising from supplement use in sport. The latest warnings were issued to sports and athletes in June and November last year.

We know athletes use supplements and we are often criticised about the strong stance we take. However, we have seen too many athletes banned after they have used supplements that they thought were safe, but were actually contaminated with prohibited substances. So remember, if you choose to use supplements, first weigh up the risks and make an informed decision.