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NCAA ephedra ban raises athlete issues

By Daily Bruin Staff

Feb. 4, 2002 9:00 p.m.

By Scott Bair
Daily Bruin Reporter

Unlike the normal UCLA population, student-athletes cannot go
down to the local store, purchase and consume ephedrine-based
products. They can’t because the NCAA banned the drug in
1997. It was banned after an NCAA survey on over-the-counter drugs
showed that there was not a high volume of reported ephedrine
usage, but when used, ephedra was used for performance
enhancement.

After the results of the survey were introduced, the NCAA
disallowed use of ephedrine products and arranged for punitive
damages should the student-athlete be caught consuming the product.
The penalty for ephedrine use is a one-year suspension under
current NCAA law.

“As with any group of 18 and 19- year-olds, they
don’t care as much.” UCLA football head trainer Geoff
Schaat said. “You can come at them with the “˜It’s
not good for you’ stance, but they really only pay attention
when you tell them that they may lose a year of eligibility.
That’s what makes their ears perk up.”

It may be harder for student-athletes to lose that year of
eligibility under the current NCAA testing policies. As of now, the
NCAA only tests for ephedrine-based products during championship
situations. A 2001 survey of NCAA athletes discovered ephedrine
usage in 4 percent of the athletes.

“We’ve seen increased numbers of positive in the
last few years,” Dr. Gary Green, UCLA associate professor and
NCAA chair of drug testing and drug education committees said.
“A few years ago we never saw positives, but now it has
definitely increased in the last few years.”

According to Dr. Green, ephedrine use has gone up significantly
within the last four years, especially in women’s sports.

“Female athletes would be more susceptible in sports that
emphasize thinness, like gymnastics,” Green said. “We
saw a very high (ephedrine) use there.”

The 9,000 annual random regular-season drug examinations
performed on student-athletes across the country do not include a
test for ephedrine-based products.

How close is the NCAA to providing a test for such a potentially
harmful substance during the regular season?

Not very close, says Mary Wilfert, the program coordinator in
education outreach, the division that oversees drug-testing
programs. A change in drug-testing policy would require a change in
NCAA legislation. A legislative change must go from a
recommendation based upon acquired data to a committee vote before
it is even presented to the NCAA membership for its
consideration.

“It could be a year or more from someone making the formal
recommendation, and we’re not even to that point yet,”
Wilfert said.

Adding ephedrine to the regular-season drug test would increase
the cost of each examination by $25-50 per test. The National
Office of Drug-Free Sport dismisses cost as an issue, stating that
if the NCAA wanted to add the drug, cost would be the least of its
concerns.

“It’s not a cost issue, it’s a philosophical
issue,” said Frank Uryasz of the National Office of Drug-Free
Sport. “In sport drug-testing, stimulants are tested for at
the time when an athlete would receive a competitive advantage (in
championship situations) by using them, and that would be in
competition. An athlete could use ephedra right before a contest,
and that would give a competitive advantage.”

Ephedrine-based products only stay in the body for 24 to 48
hours, eliminating, therefore, the long-term performance-enhancing
benefits of the drug for athletes. But the NCAA ban does not
eliminate the potentially harmful side effects of using the product
in general, which an athlete could get away with in
non-championship situations.

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