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Illegal PEDs Not a Problem on Campus

in Sports by
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In recent years, a number of scary-sounding names and acronyms have come into the public eye. BALCO. HGH. Biogenesis. Deer antler spray. And so on. While the details are shady, one thing is clear: our childhoods have been forever ruined by popular athletes like Lance Armstrong, Alex Rodriguez, and others, who cheated their way to the top using performance-enhancing drugs, or PEDs.

Not all PEDs are designer drugs, of course. The NCAA bans eight classes of substances, from stimulants to steroids to hormones. This list includes well-known substances like amphetamines and human growth hormone, as well as seemingly innocuous ones like caffeine (in large enough doses). In fact, it is misleading to refer to the banned list as a ‘list’ — on the NCAA website (http://www.ncaa.org/wps/wcm/connect/public/ncaa/health+and+safety/drug+testing/resources/ncaa+banned+drugs+list) it says in bold, “Note to Student-Athletes: There is no complete list of banned substances. Do not rely on this list to rule out any supplement ingredient. Check with your athletics department staff prior to using a supplement.”

NCAA policy towards PEDs varies by division, according to Athletic Director Adam Hertz. “Divisions I and II are also required to have their own institutional testing programs that they execute throughout the year. Division III does not have that requirement, but many opt also test their students during the year.” Schools enforce the NCAA policy, as well as their own, if they differ. Hertz said that Swarthmore’s policy is identical to NCAA policy.

In the event of a positive test for any banned substance, the athlete is suspended for the season and loses one year of eligibility. In the event of a second positive test, the reaction depends on the kind of drug. For street drugs like marijuana, the punishment is the same. For a PED, a second positive test leads to permanent ineligibility.

Swarthmore, a Division III institution, does not test students during the year, but instead focuses on educating student-athletes about the issue. Hertz says the athletic department makes an effort to discuss banned substances during the pre-season meetings that are mandatory for each team. “When doing the NCAA paperwork, we have a discussion of banned substances and the ramifications for testing positive during an NCAA test. We let students know that some substances that are on the banned list could show up in various ‘supplements’ that one can buy from the local nutrition store,” Hertz said. “Students on prescription medication are also advised to communicate with the training room so we have the proper level of documentation in the event that there is an ingredient in the medication that is on the banned list.”

Although Division III schools like Swarthmore do not test during the season, the NCAA tests for PEDs and street drugs at championships. With the recent success of Garnet teams on the national level, this is when student-athletes would be tested. Hertz said there have been no recent incidents with PEDs. “We have been selected to test at past NCAA championships, but have not had any issues.”

Hertz and other students do not believe PEDs are a problem at Swarthmore, or in the Centennial Conference and Division III in general. Regarding whether there is a problem, Hertz said, “I’d like to think not. I’d like to think that we have enough sense to understand the longer term consequences that come with using these types of drugs.”

Student-athletes agreed with Hertz. Sophia*, a swimmer, was bitterly sarcastic when asked about PEDs, saying she uses banned substances “all the time.” Which? “It’s illegal in the US, and I don’t want to start an investigation.” Her sarcasm suggests that the idea of using banned substances is completely foreign to athletes on campus. Another swimmer, Ignotus*, shared a similar view: “I think I began thinking about using PEDs when I started considering if I was going to swim this year. But then I read on the interweb that PEDs come with various side effects, which corroborates a program I saw on the TV about PEDs and side effects.” Misha*, a lacrosse player, categorically rejected the idea of using PEDs, adding, “I don’t know any athletes at Swat that use any illegal PEDs.“

As it stands, the odds are far greater of a student-athlete testing positive accidentally, rather than willfully breaking the rules, especially considering the complicated nature of the banned substance list. This could happen in several ways. Leisha Shaffer, an assistant swim coach, described needing to wean a swimmer off soft drinks before the NCAA Championships one year, because the coaching staff feared the athlete would test positive for caffeine.

A more likely scenario would be a positive test due to a protein supplement containing a banned addition. Misha said he uses a pre-workout supplement with negligible caffeine, creatine, and “some other legal supplements,” adding that many other athletes do as well. He said he also consumes protein after practices. Ignotus said he and other swimmers would take protein shakes after practices while on training trip, but pointed out, “I’m not sure that anyone knows what was in that protein powder. We got into this kind of mentality, where one person didn’t check the ingredients, so the next person didn’t, and before you know it we were four days into an intense binge.”

Aside from protein powder, Ignotus said these protein shakes did not contain any other supplements.  “A few staple items always found their way in there — some muscle milk, peanut butter, bananas, raw egg, ground up ibuprofen — the goods.”

Even a positive test from this is extremely unlikely though, as coaches and training staff make sure to only recommend legal supplements, and there are many legal ones on the market. Misha said he has never been recommended to take anything aside from a protein shake, adding, “I’ve had strength coaches recommend flaxseed oil, fish oil, and other supplements (usually everyday vitamins and minerals) that can be taken by pill to help optimize energy usage and aid in muscle recovery, but not supplements in the form of a gimmicky powder or pill.”

Considering these statements, there is no problem with illegal PEDs at Swarthmore, and if Hertz is right, in Division III as a whole. But while Swarthmore student-athletes strive to compete on an even playing field and stay healthy, they could accidentally test positive due to vagueness on the part of the NCAA. As Misha pointed out, “‘Supplements’ is a very loose term.”

*The Phoenix talked to several student athletes about PEDs and whether they use them.  Although none use banned substances, anonymity was granted because the interview concerned potentially illegal activity.

An In-Depth Look at Drug Use at Swarthmore

in Around Campus/News by

No one’s ever contested the fact that there are drugs at Swarthmore. Or that there are several different kinds of drugs. It seems, however, that the drug culture may not be as big or as prevalent as many think, especially given the long-standing reputation the college has for being full of liberal, “hippie” students.

Swarthmore of course sees a lot of alcohol — much like in most schools — and a decent amount of marijuana use. And while the presence of drugs like acid, mushrooms, ecstasy, lsd, and mdma (among others) seems less visible, there is a general consensus among many staff and students that for all intents and purposes, there are no drugs like meth, cocaine or heroin.

“There have been a variety of drugs on this campus, but I don’t think they’re as prevalent as they are in the outside world, at least in the social groups that I’ve been in,” said a student (Student 1), who preferred to remain anonymous. “I think Swarthmore uses drugs far less than the average college or university.”

Alcohol Intervention and Education Specialist, Tom Elverson, says his sense is that the presence of harder drugs on campus is minimal, compared to other schools similar to Swarthmore.

Still, while the drug culture is certainly smaller, even by sheer numbers, another student, Student 2, says that apart from weed, LSD and mushrooms, there are a fair amount of experimental drugs like 2C-I, 2C-B, 4-ACO-DMT, and many others. These chemically engineered drugs are devised to produce the same effects as other more organic drugs. 4-ACO-DMT, for instance, also known as O-Acetylpsilocin, is a chemical drug alternative to psilocybin, which is a natural occurring psychedelic in mushrooms.

“The school is pretty hippie, it’s full of people that like to experiment,” Student 2 said.

Student 3, who has sold mushrooms (a natural psychedelic) on campus, has seen this too. He was surprised at the rate at which he sold them. In under two weeks, he sold over an ounce, or almost 30 grams of “shrooms,” even considering that the suggested or most common dose is approximately 0.75-1.5 grams.

“I guess that rate would be normal in a city, but here I was surprised by how many kids just got word,” he said. “It was a lot of friends of friends, but I would also get random texts asking me for them. People were willing to pay a lot for an otherwise really rare product,” he said.

Student 3 doesn’t think that this would work for just any drug, however. He thinks that it’s not just the school that is “hippie,” but that the drugs are as well.

“[Swarthmore] isn’t a party-hard, let’s-snort-cocaine kind of school. The drugs that are here are the kind you would expect. We have more psychedelic, mind-bending drugs. I wanna say they’re hippie drugs,” he said, noting that they go hand-in-hand with the kind of intellectual, self-exploration that’s present in almost every other sphere of Swatties’ lives. “All drugs are to some extent part of some kind of intellectual exploration, but these almost emphasize that, whereas drugs like cocaine are more about wanting to have fun, feeling exhilaration.”

Quite obviously, alcohol is one kind of drug people take to have fun on campus. Because it is so readily available, some think it lowers the need of finding other illicit substances with which to have fun, or feel good.

“Booze will always be the most popular one. It is quite the most universal drug of choice,” said Student 1.

According to Elverson, who counsels many students with drug problems, alcohol is by far the most common drug he deals with.

“Most of the people I see have chronic alcohol issues. They resort to alcohol because they’re depressed, they’re anxious, they had a fight with someone … We also do have some students that are alcohol dependent, and that’s their primary issue,” he said.

Elverson says that even though most of the students he talks to are referred from the Dean’s office, Worth, CAPS or RAs, a few students self-refer themselves to him with issues, and many try to seek help for their friends.

“I’ve had to recommend that students be placed in treatment centers, some as close as Philadelphia, others as far as Boston,” he said, noting that this is not the majority of cases. “Most students can get support from me or an AA group off campus.”

Still, due in part to its tolerant and open alcohol policy, the college is on the lower end of the spectrum around issues of hospitalizations, citations, court appearances and interventions, according to Elverson. This he gathered in 2007, after conducting a comparative study of colleges like Swarthmore in relation to their alcohol-related incidents (Guilford, Sarah Lawrence, Middlebury, Dickinson, and Franklin & Marshall included).

“I don’t want to make light of it and say it’s no big deal though,” he said. “One case is one too many.”

The biggest drug around which there seems to be under debate is Adderall, or other like prescription “study” drugs. Adderall, which is used for the treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is often used by students without the disorder to be better able to concentrate and study more efficiently.

Student 1, while acknowledging that Adderall does exist on campus, thinks it is not as common of a study aide here as it is in other places.

“I personally don’t know of anyone who’s overusing drugs like Adderall to study,” he said. “I’ve used it before, but I don’t have a prescription so it’s not like I have easy access to it.”

While it is, in some ways, surprising that Adderall is not a more prevalent drug on Swarthmore’s campus (given the amount of work Swatties have and the stress they’re often under), Student 1 thinks the culture is so study oriented that it’s unnecessary.

“Sometimes you have nothing to do but study because no one is socializing, no one is partying. No one is doing anything because it’s study time across all of campus,” he said.

Student 3 agrees. “I have this gut reaction against it. It’s like cheating,” he said. “It’s a power tool that you just use to solve a problem, and an assignment, especially at a place like this, should be a genuine, creative, personal production.”

It is not a drug that Elverson, or Director of Psychological Services David Ramirez, sees much of either. Most of the students that come by CAPS with concerns about Adderall are curious as to “whether it could be helpful with attention and concentration issues” rather than worried about possible misuse and abuse.

Student 2, on the other hand, knows a good amount of people who use Adderall who are “providing it for themselves, bringing it in from home or from Philly.” And while there aren’t many deals on campus, “people are using it to study really hard.”

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