Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Doping - Working With Manufacturers

I've vocalized some ideas for anti-doping controls before. My anonymous mobile anti-doping testers, doing random checks in testing labs, and finally what would happen if there was a movement towards clean cycling.

One idea I had and sort of discarded was to put markers in all the various drugs that could be used to enhance performance. EPO type drugs are an obvious candidate for this - although there are legitimately anemic people all over the world, I don't think there are too many of them in the pro cycling peloton.

The problem with inserting a marker into an existing drug is that this marker could potentially turn out to have some side effect. Since the drug has been changed, it has to be retested. And that takes lots of time and lots of money that would drive the cost of the drug up. And it isn't because the drug doesn't work - it's all because some pharmacist somewhere is selling the stuff "under the counter".

As a manufacturer I'd be a little unhappy if I had to spend a bunch of money to retest a drug simply because someone is using it illegally. Why should, say, Vicks, for example, pay tons of money to insert a marker into one of their standard cough medicines? Used legitimately their products are safe. It's the abusers (or home meth concoctors) who make it a problem.

So other controls are in place - instead of buying the real NyQuil over the counter, you have to buy the stuff at the desk, give ID, and you're limited to 2.5 grams of pseudoephedrine a day (that's what my receipt said for my purchase of DayQuil and NyQuil).

I didn't think of a particular scenario in my "marker musings" - one of a new drug. In this case it would be simple to insert a marker somewhere at the beginning of the process, something unusual that would show up in users but have no effect on them. All the testing would be done with this marker in place and the drug would be approved with the same.

This testing with the marker in place would mean that the drug can't be sold without the marker.

Fine, an illegitimate manufacturer might try and replicate it without the marker, but who's to say what part is the marker?

The drug manufacturer could quietly perform the work with this inert marker, sort of like diamond sellers who somehow put serial numbers on their diamonds (laser?). It's not immediately obvious, so a legitimate patient could use the drug and not have their skin turn purple (although that would certainly be a strong deterrant from illegal drug use...). But just like a jeweler can check a serial number on a suspect diamond, someone checking some fluid samples of a suspected user would be able to immediately pinpoint use of any marker-type drug.

We could take it one step further and require that all drugs have some marker if they are not readily identified. So, for example, I think morphine breaks down into "normal" substances in the human body, but if there's a "morphine marker" then morphine use can be tracked even after the actual morphine is gone.

Back to the cycling, because that's what this is about.

Ricco, who tested positive for a barely released drug, was caught by a marker inserted by the drug manufacturer.

Well now.

If such work continues on all new drugs, it will become very difficult to dope without getting caught. Of course there are the current unmarked drugs, like the various "normal" EPO drugs, but if new drugs have markers, the anti-doping labs can spend more time on developing better tests for those unmarked drugs.

Combined with better testing schedules, a more accepted anti-doping culture, and acceptance of year round testing, I think that cycling (as well as other sports) can rid itself of much of its doping controversy. I'm sure people are thinking of new and better ways of beating the system, but for now it seems that the system is finally getting up to speed.

*Edit July 24, 2008* - Apparently there is not a marker molecule in this new EPO. Instead, by focusing on a unique and particular molecule in the drug, WADA was able to test for that particular molecule.

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