U.S. Anti-Doping Agency creates new permission for amateur athletes with medical conditions

Last September, the U.S. Anti Doping Agency gave Jeff Hammond a green light he never expected: USADA said that Hammond, a masters cyclist, could compete in races while using medically prescribed testosterone.

“I started crying,” said Hammond, whose doctor prescribed testosterone in 2012 for a bone-weakening condition.

USADA isn’t broadcasting the news. But it has created a new exemption for masters and amateur athletes who are prescribed banned drugs. Called a Recreational Competitor Therapeutic Use Exemption, it allows masters and amateur athletes to compete in low-level competitions while taking banned substances. An athlete must prove to USADA that he or she is unlikely to actually win one of these amateur races, in addition to proving a medical need for an illicit chemical.

“Out of fairness to those non-competitive athletes, we put in place a process that allows for them to compete while still requiring a fair and reasonable review of each recreational athlete’s medical situation,” USADA said in a statement to the Wall Street Journal.

Testosterone, an anabolic steroid, is perhaps the most popular doping chemical in sports history, due to its ability to boost muscle mass and improves recovery. Since 2002, USADA has banned 32 athletes for testosterone, including cyclist Lance Armstrong. Major-league baseball players Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon also received sanctions for testosterone use.

As a therapeutic remedy, supplemental testosterone provides health benefits to men with missing or damaged testicles, or with naturally low levels of the hormone. Chronically low testosterone—called hypogonadism—can cause osteoporosis, among other problems. According to a 2013 report published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, testosterone therapy in men over 40 increased threefold from 2001-2011. In men with naturally low levels, supplemental testosterone theoretically would provide no advantage over other competitors.

Testosterone’s illicit use in the 1980’s and 1990’s persuaded the International Olympic Committee to adopt a zero-tolerance policy, said Don Catlin, a former IOC executive and scientist who helped pioneer dope testing.

“If somebody asked for a testosterone [TUE], we simply wrote a letter saying no,” said Catlin. “Anytime you give a TUE for a drug that truly enhances performance, the news spreads like wildfire. More athletes will want to use it.”

Over time, that position softened. A USADA spokesman said the organization has granted TUE documents to elite athletes who met very strict medical criteria.

Exemptions weren’t an issue for recreational athletes until recent years, when USADA began testing some lower-level athletes at some triathlons, foot races and cycling events.

In 2010 52-year-old runner Val Barnwell tested positive for testosterone after winning the 2009 Masters track world championships. In 2015, the winner of the amateurs-only Gran Fondo New York, Oscar Tovar, had his title stripped after recording a positive test for testosterone. Real estate salesman Greg Pizza, 62, tested positive after competing at the 2015 USA Track and Field National Masters Championships.

In 2013, USADA issued a two-year ban to masters track runner Roger Wenzel, who said he was prescribed testosterone to treat Parkinson’s disease. Wenzel died of liver cancer in 2015 at the age of 66. Wenzel’s widow, Jane Wenzel, said her husband considered challenging USADA in court, but instead spoke to a local newspaper columnist about his ordeal.

“We didn’t have the resources to take [USADA] on,” Wenzel said.

After Hammond received a testosterone prescription at age 58 in 2012, he applied with USADA for a TUE. athlete to use a banned substance for medical reasons. When USADA denied his application, Hammond hung up his bike.

“I knew the chances were extremely small that I’d ever be tested,” said Hammond, who teaches communication at Colorado’s Metro State University. “I didn’t want to go to races always worrying that I’d be tested.”

This past September Hammond again applied for a TUE, expecting to receive another rejection.

To his surprise, USADA mailed him a Recreational Competitor Therapeutic Use Exemption. Thrilled, he said, “It had broken my heart to stop racing.”

USADA received a legal challenge to its TUE procedures for testosterone in 2014 from Texas urologist Sloan Teeple. Teeple, 45, was banned for 18 months after testing positive at a local mountain bike race in 2013, where he finished in the middle of the pack.

Teeple, who was diagnosed with hypogonadism in 2005, said he applied with USADA for a TUE in 2011 and 2012, but was denied both times. When USADA denied Teeple’s third TUE application, he requested an arbitration hearing. Teeple hired sports lawyer Howard Jacobs, who has represented multiple high-profile athletes accused of doping.

“I felt that I wasn’t doing anything morally or ethically wrong,” Teeple said. “I wanted a panel of arbitrators to hear my story and decide what is right.”

USADA declined to comment on Teeple’s case. Teeple said he and Jacobs scheduled a meeting with USADA’s lawyers and three arbitrators in Austin, Texas, in July 2014. On the eve of the meeting, Teeple said, USADA asked Teeple to suspend his testosterone treatment for six weeks, and then submit blood levels along with results from an MRI of his brain.

After following the instructions, Teeple received an email in June 2015 containing a Recreational Competitor TUE.

USADA declined to say how many Recreational Competitor TUE applications it has granted.

Teeple, who blogged about his experience, said he and Hammond are the only two athletes he knows of with the documents.

Jacobs, who previously represented disgraced sprinter Marion Jones and Landis in their respective doping cases, said he had never heard of the Recreational Competitor TUE before receiving the Teeple’s document from USADA.

“[USADA] told me it was something new that they had just created,” Jacobs said. “I see it as a compromise.”

Article Source: http://www.wsj.com/articles/prescription-steroids-get-a-quiet-exemption-1461365753

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