Blog: Prescription medication use in sport

3 October 2015

There have been several media stories over the past couple of weeks involving the near tragic and disturbing claims of misuse of prescription medication by current and former athletes. From a health perspective the stories have been highly concerning and the warnings, which are well known, must finally be heard.

Prescription medication has a legitimate therapeutic use in our society. Taking these medications as per the advice of medical professionals and consumer information is the responsible course of action. To do otherwise is potentially putting your health at severe risk.

In sport, certain prescribed medications are prohibited in-competition because they may contain substances that meet two of the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) criteria for prohibited substances and methods:

  1. Potential to enhance or enhances sports performance
  2. An actual or potential health risk to the athlete
  3. Use violates the spirit of sport (outlined in the Code).

Athletes, however, may at times need to use a prohibited medication to treat a legitimate medical condition. A Therapeutic Use Exemption is an exemption that allows an athlete to use, for therapeutic purposes only, an otherwise prohibited substance or method (of administering a substance) which may be present during competition.

ASADA’s role in monitoring the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sport is only applicable to prescription medications where such medications are on the WADA Prohibited List and are used by athletes who do not have a Therapeutic Use Exemption.

The Australian Sports Drug Medical Advisory Committee (ASDMAC) is the only body in Australia with the authority to issue Therapeutic Use Exemptions. It performs this responsibility in accordance with the World Anti-Doping Agency’s International Standard for Therapeutic Use Exemptions.

In assessing an athlete’s Therapeutic Use Exemption application, ASDMAC conducts a full review of the medical information submitted by the athlete and their medical representative. Where an athlete meets the strict criteria set out under the International Standard for Therapeutic Use Exemptions, ASDMAC will issue an approval.

Therapeutic Use Exemption applications for prescribed medications, such as prednisone are not uncommon. ASDMAC has, and continues to grant Therapeutic Use Exemptions to athletes for the oral use of prednisone or prednisolone as part of a course of treatment in the management of severe asthma, as well as other conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease and inflammatory arthritis.

ASADA notes claims made in the media by former West Coast Eagle player, Daniel Chick about the use of prednisone (which he had a Therapeutic Use Exemption for) on match-day in 2006. We also note that former ASADA CEO, Richard Ings told media that, ‘Anti-doping rule violations have a 10 year statute of limitations so any possible breaches of anti-doping rules in the 2006 season certainly fall still within that’. This is incorrect.

The ten year statute of limitations for anti-doping rule violations came into effect on 1 January 2015 in line with the revised World Anti-Doping Code (the Code). Under the ASADA Regulations the new ten-year statute of limitation period only applies to conduct on or after 1 January 2007. As such, our preliminary legal advice is that we do not have the jurisdiction to look into claims made in relation to 2006.

We note that the police and National Rugby League’s integrity unit are investigating the incident involving the South Sydney players and that the Australian Football League’s Integrity Department will look into the latest allegations by Daniel Chick. Under the circumstances this appears to be an appropriate course of action in both cases.