What you need to know about Performance Enhancing Drugs
Recently, a significant number of Aussie athletes and sporting teams have been called in to question for their choices surrounding the use of performance or image enhancing drugs. It’s an issue that has made sport front-page news, for all of the wrong reasons.
In response, the Minister for Sport Mr Greg Hunt has this week called for a review into the integrity of Australian sport. The review will complement and inform the work of the Australian Sport Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) a regulatory body which is primarily focused on stamping out the use of illegal performance enhancing substances in professional sport, but also provides educational resources and programs to community clubs.
“Sport is a part of our DNA, bringing with it so many physical, social, cultural and economic benefits so it’s vital the integrity of all sports are protected,” Mr Hunt said.
What are Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs?
Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs (or PIEDs for short) are substances someone injects, ingests or applies to the body to enhance physical performance or appearance. These can include pharmaceutical drugs like anabolic steroids and synthesized growth hormone, as well as dietary or nutritional supplements (think pre-workout). Also included are substances athletes use for recreational, recovery, anaesthetic or stress-management purposes.
There are many reasons why people use PIEDs but most commonly they’re used as a means to swell muscle mass, shed fat, sustain endurance, resist fatigue, stimulate energy and tolerate pain. PIEDs are touted to help us look and perform better. The catch is that there are many risks and harms associated with PIEDs use.
The use of PIEDs is prohibited in professional sport under the World Anti-Doping Authority’s banned substances list for 2016. This list is re-enforced in Australia by the Australian Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA). Anabolic steroids and growth hormone releasing peptides are prescription only medicines and cannot be re-sold. In fact, it’s illegal to bring most peptides into Australia without a permit.
Who is using Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs?
The media regularly covers stories about elite athletes and their involvement in the use of a banned substance. And despite many competitive sports banning PIEDs, research predicts that any athlete who attributes his or her success to external factors would be more likely to use PIEDs in order to get ahead. Recent incidents of PIEDs misuse shows that it’s an issue for a wide range of sporting codes, from cycling to tennis, to Australian rules football.
But it’s not only elite athletes that are using these substances. The use of PIEDs is not just restricted to elite sport; there have been multiple incidents of use within community sport.
Much of this more localised use has to do with image-enhancement – a recent study of PIEDs use among adolescent boys found that this group felt particular pressure to gain muscle size in order to bolster their physical appearance and sense of self-worth among peers. This links to additional data that suggests adolescent boys who already take supplements (like vitamins, protein powder and sports drinks) were significantly more likely to be dissatisfied with their muscularity, and also more lenient towards doping in sport.
What are the general harms?
PIEDs encompass a whole heap of substances, with varying effects and symptoms. Many of the substances used in this space are new and experimental, and so a comprehensive list of effects and harms is unavailable.
When injected, PIEDs have the additional harms associated with other injecting drug use, including infection, transmission of disease through needle sharing and other problems caused by incorrect injecting technique.
Another important risk to be aware of is psychological dependence upon the drug. Body dysmorphia – a distorted perception of appearance, usually negative, that does not reflect reality – is often part of this.
Finally, using PIEDs illegally in the sporting environment can lead to significant club or league sanctions, isolating users who often lose their place within a club or community. This can impact significantly on the health and wellbeing of the user.
Different categories of drugs have different, additional harms. These include high blood pressure, physical changes like acne and changes in mood. Read the full list of harms here.
How can my club help?
The best way clubs can help to protect their members from the negative effects of PIEDs, is to nurture a positive and inclusive environment that focuses on all the best parts of community sport. Set clear expectations about what is an is not acceptable and consider including where your club stands on PIEDs use in your health and wellbeing policy.
Clubs should also be encouraged to share information about PIEDs with their members. Use the ASADA educational resources and programs to get started.
Members shouldn’t feel pressured to go to extreme levels for their team. A true winning culture is one that promotes health and wellbeing, and celebrates each team member’s differences and strengths.
It’s also important to remind your members of the laws and regulations around accessing and using PIEDs. Steroid use is banned in many competitive sports and testing positive for steroids can result in fines, suspensions or permanent bans.
How can I get help or learn more?
If you think you might need help, or are looking to support a loved one or teammate, contact DrugInfo for confidential advice.