Fri, Dec 10, 2004 - Page 24 News List

Tougher tests will not stop baseball doping, experts say

STEROIDS Insiders say that the multitude of ways to avoid detection means that players who fail a drug test are in essence failing an IQ test


Even if Major League Baseball and the players' union agree to institute more stringent testing for anabolic steroids, there will still be a number of ways for players to use performance-enhancing drugs and defy detection, many doping experts say.

One method involves carefully calibrating the use of banned substances so that they do not fall within the standards that define cheating. For instance, the presence of the muscle-building steroid testosterone is considered illicit if it exceeds a ratio of 6-to-1 with epitestosterone, a related chemical, in an athlete's body. Most people have a naturally occurring ratio of 1-to-1 or 2-to-1, scientists say.

An athlete can take steroids and boost his level of testosterone significantly, up to a ratio of 5-to-1 to epitestosterone, and still pass a drug screening. Some athletes affiliated with the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative apparently did this with a substance that was known as "the cream."

Brian Getz, a lawyer repre-senting the sprinter Michell Collins, who was charged with doping violations based on evidence developed by federal investigators in the BALCO case, said that some scientists testifying in her case thought the 6-to-1 ratio was outmoded and should be reduced to perhaps 4-to-1. Another way for athletes to avoid detection involves designer steroids that are undetectable with conventional drug testing. One of the sobering lessons of the BALCO case is that designer steroids are available to athletes, and drug-testing has only limited ability to detect them. The scandal broke not because an athlete tested positive, but because a track coach, Trevor Graham, informed on Victor Conte Jr, the founder of BALCO, who was affiliated with a rival sprint group.

If Graham had not turned in a syringe to anti-doping officials, and had that investigation of BALCO not dovetailed with an existing Internal Revenue Service inquiry of Conte and his company, the revelations of doping that have shaken baseball and track and field might not have surfaced, anti-doping experts say.

Eluding drug screens is "like taking candy from a baby," Conte said last Friday on the ABC program 20/20. Conte, who has been charged with conspiracy to distribute steroids and money laundering and is awaiting trial, has said that another undetectable steroid, in addition to the designer steroid THG that he is accused of having sold, is already in use.

The assertion by commissioner Bud Selig that he will rid baseball of drug use is illusory, according to many drug-testing experts.

"It's absolutely a pipe dream," said Dr Gary Wadler, a professor of medicine at New York University and an expert on performance-enhancing drugs.

"The best you can ever hope for is to decrease the incidence, hopefully in a meaningful way," he said.

Anti-doping experts said they were concerned that baseball was placing too much focus on steroids, and not enough on other performance-enhancing substances like human growth hormone and stimulants.

These experts said baseball should adopt the complete list of banned substances instituted by the World Anti-Doping Agency, which oversees drug-testing of international sports.

Anything short of using a broad list under new baseball guidelines would render the testing porous and ineffective, according to the experts.

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