Use of banned drugs by athletes no surprise

Super Bowl fans will watch plenty of commercials today, and those ads will be more fun than the ones I usually see.

That’s because I watch too much TV news. The demographics of that viewing audience apparently jibe with users of certain prescription drugs. So I see a lot of ads for problems — they’re not ailments, exactly.

Judging by the frequency of these ads, “low T” is a common condition. Testosterone products promise to fix symptoms that include low libido, lack of energy and decreased strength, all things that come with aging.

News viewers must also be a depressed lot. There’s an ad for a drug called Abilify that’s taken with an antidepressant. The drug’s selling point is that it keeps at bay a cartoon shadow that follows you around — your persistent case of the blues.

Sleep also appears to elude us. A new drug, Intermezzo, is made to cure the insomnia that happens when you wake up in the middle of the night. A boring book works, too.

Many of these medicines come with a potential for scary side effects, things like vomiting and suicidal thoughts.

These commercials in frequent rotation show how drug-saturated our society has become. They also indicate how much profit is on the line with what a 2012 Bloomberg News article called “lifestyle drugs.” According to that article, prescriptions for testosterone replacement doubled to 5.6 million between 2006 and 2011, and Global Industry Analysts, Inc., projected testosterone sales will triple to $5 billion annually by 2017.

I don’t question anyone’s need for any medicine a respected doctor sees as appropriate treatment. And this column isn’t really about drug commercials. It’s a long way of getting to another subject — Lance Armstrong.

Having watched Oprah Winfrey’s recent interview with the disgraced cyclist, I have no doubt Armstrong is a practiced liar and bully. I didn’t like him, but I did believe some of what he said.

Armstrong admitted using banned substances to win the Tour de France seven times. He answered yes to questions about whether he had used the hormone EPO, erythropoietin, which is produced in the kidneys and controls red blood cell production; whether he used blood doping and transfusions; and whether he used testosterone, cortisone and human growth hormone.

Cortisone is a steroid hormone, released by the adrenal gland during stress, that can reduce inflammation. My elderly mom has had cortisone shots to help with knee pain.

After answering those questions, Armstrong told Winfrey: “I viewed it as a level playing field.”

It’s an “everybody’s doing it” argument. You wouldn’t accept it from your kids if they were involved in dangerous or dishonest behavior. Yet Armstrong has a point, doesn’t he? It doesn’t excuse his lies. It does kind of explain them.

Those testosterone commercials got me thinking. How many people use medication to enhance performance — not in sports, but in daily life? If the average Joe, Mr. Everyman, can “stop living in the shadows” by using Abbott Laboratories’ AndroGel testosterone, how much more can that substance boost superstar athletes?

And how do you send the message to athletes or sports fans that performance-enhancing substances are wrong, when regular folks take a daily dose? Those folks aren’t trying to win the Tour de France. The big benefit of testosterone therapy is countering natural effects of aging.

I read not long ago about no one, neither big-time hitters Barry Bonds nor Mark McGuire, being voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame this year because of a cloud cast by suspected use of banned substances.

I read last week allegations out of Florida about New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez using performance-enhancing substances banned in Major League Baseball.

And I read Friday about Ray Lewis, a Baltimore Ravens linebacker, and a Sports Illustrated report that he sought help from a company which claims its deer-antler spray and pills contain a naturally occurring banned product connected to human growth hormone.

I read all this, and I listened to Lance Armstrong. Part of me just thought, so what? Everybody else is doing it.

That doesn’t make it right. But when winning is what matters, use of banned substances by athletes is ho-hum news that surprises no one.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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