How Pharmacists Can Get Involved in Sports Pharmacy

Meghan Ross, Senior Associate Editor

More and more pharmacists are showing interest in sports pharmacy and doping prevention, specifically.

More and more pharmacists are showing interest in sports pharmacy and doping prevention, specifically.

In a recent study published in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, pharmacy students expressed a strong desire to help athletes with their medication regimens, and many also called for more sports pharmacy education in school curricula.

Anecdotally, Peter Ambrose, PharmD, a professor in the Department of Clinical Pharmacy at the University of California, San Francisco School of Pharmacy, told Pharmacy Times that he receives e-mails from pharmacy students around the world several times a month, and all of them want to know how they can get involved in sports pharmacy.

Dr. Ambrose believes it would be helpful for pharmacy students to get more exposure to sports pharmacy though curricula and research into opportunities—especially for interested pharmacy students who were athletes and competed at a high sports level themselves.

Notably, Dr. Ambrose was a doping control officer at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia; the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia; and the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China. After both the preliminary and final events, he was sent to various venues where medal-winners and some athletes would get drug tested on a random basis.

At the drug testing station, the doping control officers take athletes’ medication history, and the athletes provide a urine sample under the supervision of an officer.

Then, the urine samples are split into 2 groups: A and B. The samples are blinded so the lab workers do not know who they are testing and what country they are from.

If sample A is negative for banned drugs, then that’s the end of the test. If sample A is positive, then sample B is used for confirmation, Dr. Ambrose explained.

He got involved with the Olympics after working in drug testing with the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in the 1980s. When the games were being planned in Atlanta, the organizers heard about Dr. Ambrose and asked him to apply. He was selected, but then he had to apply again for Sydney and Beijing separately.

Dr. Ambrose won’t be at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, but he has applied for the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Pharmacists who have an interest in sports pharmacy but cannot serve in the Olympics as doping control officers can still help athletes through community pharmacies and those serving college students.

One way pharmacists can help with doping prevention is by counseling athletes about using dietary supplements that are banned, contaminated, or suspicious. Pharmacists can also help athletes navigate banned substances lists.

Dr. Ambrose noted that navigating banned substances databases can be rather complicated because there is no universal list. For example, the NCAA has its own banned substances list that college athletes have to abide by, but if they are also trying to compete in the Olympics, they must comply with a second list of banned drugs. The NBA has its own list, as well.

In addition, some drugs are banned at all times throughout the Olympics, but other drugs are banned only during the competition, Dr. Ambrose said.

Another way pharmacists can help athletes who are subject to drug testing is to encourage them to contact their sports governing associations to make sure that their medications and supplements are not banned. Sports organizations also frequently have a call-in service or an anonymous research service online to guide athletes on what is banned.

If athletes do need a banned drug for a legitimate medical reason, pharmacists can advise them to go to their sports governing associations and apply for an exception.

“They can at least let them know that that option is available to them,” Dr. Ambrose said.

Some examples of potentially banned substances that could be needed for legitimate medical purposes include some medications for hypertension, asthma, or hormone replacement therapy.

Dr. Ambrose cited an incident during the 2000 Olympics when a 16-year-old Romanian gymnast named Andreea Mădălina Răducan won the overall medal for gymnastics but was stripped of her medal after it was determined that she had pseudoephedrine in her system for the treatment of a cold.

“No one really thought that that medication really helped her win the medal, but yet it was a banned substance,” he said. “She competed with it in her body, so they really didn’t have a choice.”

For students interested in learning more about sports pharmacy and doping prevention, Dr. Ambrose has one piece of advice that harkens back to the early days of pharmacy when pharmacists had to be pioneers and create their own opportunities.

“I tell them they have to blaze their own trail,” he said.