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U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA)

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Case Studies and Arbitration Decisions

While some athletes use dietary supplements without any problems, there are many examples of athletes who tested positive from a supplement or suffered health problems from a contaminated supplement. As the below videos and case studies reveal, the decision to use dietary supplements should not be taken lightly.

Supplement safety is never guaranteed.

Abby Raymond was just 14 years old when she was offered a protein powder and a pre-workout supplement from a family friend, who explained that his company’s products were plant-based, vegan, and made from all-natural ingredients. While excited about her first sponsorship offer, Abby’s father pointed out that Abby was subject to anti-doping rules as a standout athlete competing in sanctioned weightlifting events…a concern that was met with assurances by the company owner that his supplements were safe. After just weeks of using the supplements, Abby had an anti-doping test and soon learned that there are no guarantees when it comes to the safety of supplements.

She tested positive for ostarine, which an investigation revealed came from one of the supplements she was using that had been contaminated during the manufacturing process. Abby subsequently accepted a three-month period of ineligibility that was reduced due to her age and reliance on trusted support personnel in using the supplement.

They key takeaways from this case include:

  1. Even if labels don’t list prohibited ingredients, they may be intentionally or unintentionally contaminated with prohibited, harmful, and/or illegal ingredients.
  2. All-natural supplements aren’t a guarantee of safety.
  3. Supplements aren’t regulated like medications, so they aren’t tested for purity or efficacy before reaching consumers.

Some risks are easy to spot, some aren't.

Flavia Oliveira, a cyclist licensed by USA Cycling and the UCI, suffered from allergies and medications that caused her to feel fatigued, which led her to purchase a dietary supplement called “Hyperdrive 3.0” from an online store. She was later tested during the Giro del Trentino Donner in Italy and tested positive for oxilofrine, a stimulant on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) Prohibited List. In her resulting case, Flavia testified that she checked the ingredients of the supplement to make sure they were not prohibited. When her first bottle ran out, she ordered a second bottle. The independent arbitrator with the American Arbitration Association (AAA) for Sport decided that it was likely the oxilofrine in her system was a result of her consumption of a supplement product.

There were several things about this case that are important:  

  1. The product Flavia was using was marketed as a stimulant/energy product. Stimulants are a category of prohibited substances on the WADA Prohibited List, which should have been a warning sign.
  1. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a public warning about the product around five months before Flavia’s positive test. Even though the FDA knew there were problems with the product, many athletes remained unaware of the problem, and Hyperdrive continued to be available for sale (the FDA cannot remove products from the market quickly). Athletes should remember that just because a product is available for sale doesn’t mean it’s safe, legal, or free of prohibited substances.
  1. The substance that caused the positive test was referred to as oxilofrine on the WADA Prohibited List, but was listed by its synonym, “methylsynephrine,” on the supplement label. It’s important to realize that comparing a supplement label to the WADA Prohibited List won’t always produce an exact match or reliable results, even when there are prohibited ingredients in the product and/or on the label.

Even convenience stores, gas stations, grocery stores, and other familiar places sell risky products.

A track and field athlete, LaShawn Merritt tested positive for an anabolic agent, called DHEA, that is prohibited at all times. USADA and a panel of independent arbitrators from the AAA agreed with Merritt that his positive test was most likely the result of ingesting a product called “Extenz” purchased from a 7-Eleven store that was legally selling the product. Merritt was very surprised that it was possible to test positive for an anabolic agent from a product purchased at a 7-Eleven. Despite his accidental ingestion of DHEA, Merritt received a 21-month period of ineligibility, which included a minimal three-month reduction from the maximum sanction.

Here are some takeaways from this case:

  1. There may be prohibited substances and harmful ingredients in products purchased from familiar retail locations, including grocery stores, corner gas stations, or convenience stores.
  1. Even in the off-season, athletes cannot let down their guard and forget about anti-doping rules. It is important to always be vigilant of what coming into contact with your body.
  1. Even if consuming a prohibited substance is an accident, you may still face a period of ineligibility and loss of results under the WADA Code.
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