Hockey Headlines

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Give Him His Medal

I'm going to go on record here and say that the IOC needs to live in the real world. I get that Nicklas Backstrom's drug test came back showing that he was over the allowed limit for pseudoephedrine. I understand that he's been taking this allergy medication for seven years. I also understand that athletes have been known to abuse ephedrine in order to gain an edge on the competition as it is a stimulant. However, the dosage being taken by Backstrom for his allergies combined with the effects of the allergy drug - it wears off slowly - would, in my view, cause this false positive reading that the drug testing found.

Let me preface this entire thing by saying that I certainly do not condone the use of stimulants by athletes, and that this entire problem could have been prevented had Backstrom simply took the time to read the label or check Google. The over-the-counter name of the drug Backstrom was using for his allergies is Zyrtec-D, but the actual pharmaceuticals involved are "a combination of cetirizine, an antihistamine that reduces the natural chemical histamine in the body, and pseudoephedrine, a decongestant that shrinks blood vessels in the nasal passages". Pseudeoephedrine is a banned substance at the Olympics, and the Swedish doctors looking after the team had to have known that.

The dosage that Backstrom was taking sounds pretty standard: one pill once per day. That's a fairly innocuous dosage for sure, but the drug works slowly by design in order to relieve those taking it of their allergy symptoms all day. Again, nothing new there in terms of how allergy drugs work.

If we go back to February 19 when Backstrom's sample was submitted, Sweden played Slovenia earlier in the evening. This would mean that, depending on when Backstrom was taking his daily dosage, there could have been lingering pseudoephedrine in his system as the drug is set to be released throughout the day for up to twelve hours.

According to this information, Zyrtec-D contains "120 mg pseudoephedrine hydrochloride in an extended release layer". If the IOC's limit is 150mg of pseudoephedrine in a sample for an athlete, Zyrtec-D is basically at the limit already. If one was to take two pills within a 24-hour time period, there's a pretty good chance that the total amount of pseudoephedrine in one's system would be above the 120mg of the dosage due to the time-release formula of the drug!

Ironically, Backstrom seems to be avoiding any blame in this. "Who do I blame?" Backstrom told The Canadian Press. "Well, I followed the doctor's recommendation."

Sure. That's convenient. Naïve, but convenient. I agree that the doctor definitely has to know what is being administered to the athletes in terms of drugs, dosage, and effects. No one is saying the Swedish doctor shouldn't take some of the blame in this case, but as an athlete at the Olympic Games you have to know what you're putting into your body. It's almost common sense for an athlete to know what he's taking as a supplement or drug and what the effects are of those additives.

Here's what I do know. If there is 120mg of pseudoephedrine in every dose of Zyrtec-D, and Backstrom was found with 190mg in his sample, he's far from abusing the drug and he certainly isn't using it as a stimulant for any purpose other than to help him breathe. This is simply a case of a drug's time-release system keeping older pseudoephedrine in his system along with a new dose taken on the day of testing.

Is it over the IOC's acceptable limit? Yes. But he's not using it to gain an edge, and that's where some rational thinking comes into play on the IOC's part. He's been taking this drug as part of his routine for seven years. He's not loading up on pseudoephedrine hours before a match, and his tested level of 190mg seems to confirm that.

False positives aside, I'm not absolving Backstrom of blame here. He still is responsible for what he puts in his body. But when the guy is simply trying to breathe, denying his Olympic silver medal over 40mg of a common over-the-counter drug seems a little outrageous.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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