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An Athlete With Asthma

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Are Asthma Inhalers Synonymous with Illegal Steroids?

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Are Asthma Inhalers Synonymous with Illegal Steroids?
by Caroline Hellman

Caroline Hellman

Many of you have probably been following, or at least aware of, the recent discussion of steroid use in professional sports--specifically baseball. Congress even decided to hold open sessions about this issue (why open sessions regarding whether or not to go to war against Iraq, or the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, or the Guantanamo Bay detainee abuse scandal isn't worth a Congressional open session is anybody's guess, but never mind these insignificant evils).

Anyway, the definition of steroids has long been in flux and a matter of controversy. Amid the controversy is whether certain asthma medication, which causes an individual to test positive for steroids, should be considered as such. This was an issue with Tom Dolan, who has asthma, in the 1996 Olympic swimming races, and it's now an issue again in Ireland.

One of Ireland's professional ruby players, Frankie Sheahan, just tested positive for Salbutamol, a commonly used asthma inhaler. And, as a result, Sheahan was banned from the sport. This has sparked a lot of controversy, understandably, and people are protesting both the unfair ban and the fact that it sends the message to athletes that inhaler use is illegal--which could in turn endanger lives.

Dr. Pat Manning, a physician, commented, "Asthma should not be a barrier to participation in sport at any level, or to leading a normal life. Relievers, such as inhaled salbutamol, are a safe and effective therapy for use in asthma and are permitted in most sports when prescribed by a physician for an asthmatic."

Apparently it is required that athletes report their use of such an inhaler on a doping control form that is filled out before they take a drug test. Sheahan did not note his use on his form. Officials insist that if they were to be lax in this case and allow Sheahan to report his use of the inhaler post-drug test, it would send the wrong message to drug users about the sanctity of such exams.