Monday, February 24, 2014

Should cold medicines sponsor Olympic athletes?

That's the question I asked myself when I saw this ad on TV (or was it preroll? Hard to remember anymore):

 I was immediately reminded of the tragedy of Andreea Răducan, the young Romanian gymnast who had her gold medal taken away in the 2000 Australian Summer Games when she tested positive for pseudoephedrene—a common decongestant which was also a banned stimulant. The story was that her team doctor had given her medication for sniffles. The drug was not banned by the international gymnastics federation, but is on the IOC "doping" list.

According to Wikipedia, pseudoephedrine was removed the banned substances IOC list in 2004, when the IOC adopted the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) list. Although WADA initially only monitored pseudoephedrine, it was put back on the banned list for WADA/IOC in 2010.

Fast Forward to Sochi in 2014, and pseudoephedrine is back in Olympic news:
Sweden’s star center Nicklas Backstrom wasn’t allowed to play in the gold medal game against Canada after testing positive for a banned substance. 
An NHLPA source told Yahoo Sports that Backstrom violated anti-doping rules after tests showed an elevated level of pseudoephedrine, a banned substance by the IOC and the World Anti-Doping Federation. 
Backstrom has taken Zyrtec-D for several years for allergies. He said he takes on pill per day.
Zyrtec-D contains cetirizine and pseudoephedrine. And Sweden lost the Gold Medal game to Canada, 3-0.

I can't believe that national team doctors are not aware of a banned substance that is in many, many, cold remedies that can easily remove a star athlete from the games. I find it even more odd that a cold medication is promoting its use by athletes.

But there's a loophole here. Because pseudoephedrine is the main ingredient used to synthethize street meth, the United States government restricts its sales. Vick's was forced to replace the pseudoephedrine with phenylephrine. Everywhere else, including Canada, the over-the-counter cold meds still have the (in my experience, much more effective) pseudoephedrinePhenylephrine is also a stimulant, but it is only "monitored" by WADA.

So these American ads show an athlete taking a brand medication where everywhere except his home country would disqualify him from the Olympics (if, for example, he picked some up while competing abroad). Is that really a good idea, Vicks? Is it?

Ted Ligety earned Gold in the men’s giant slalom at Sochi. Presumably, he didn't take the wrong medicine.

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