As part of her preparation for the 2017 Francophonie Games in Abidjan, Côte D’Ivoire, former UNB wrestler Darrion Sterling went through the stressful process of getting a Therapeutic Exemption form in order to take her life changing medication, Concerta, for ADHD.
Sterling was required to take these steps because Methylphenidate, the generic drug name for Concerta, is a banned substance. According to the World Anti-Doping Agency and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport, it is the stimulating properties of Methylphenidate that cause it to be banned during competition, though not during training.
If an athlete were to be tested positive by the CCES at a competition for Methylphenidate without an exemption form, they may be subject to repercussions similar to the sanctions surrounding marijuana, anabolic steroids and hormone use. These sanctions vary depending on the understood innocence of the individual testing positive and the severity of the drug or method used.
Despite recent changes in tolerance for medical practices and medications that can greatly improve the well-being of individuals, WADA’s rules often impede the continued usage of these aids during competition causing some to choose between their wellness and their sport.
As sport has evolved, so have the means that athletes and coaches use to illicitly gain an edge over the competition. Since 2004, World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has served as the hegemonic body by which all other anti-doping organizations build their standards around.
Annually, WADA releases updated lists of drugs, medications and medical methods that are deemed unethical both in and out of competition for athletes. Nationally, the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport (CCES) serves athletes of all ages across the country regarding the fairness of sport and competition.
According to their annual report, during the 2016-2017 season the CCES ran a total of 5,319 tests on athletes with only 13 returning positive results followed by sanctions. One test of the national team athletics athlete Shawnacy Barber found him with a presence of cocaine in his blood shortly before the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
In the review process, Barber argued that is was a result of kissing someone who had used the drug. The ruling was in his favour, giving him the sanction of “No fault or negligence” on the annual report and allowing him to continue competing.
In comparison, wrestling athlete Tamerlan Tagziev was given a four-year ban from his sport for the presence of meldonium, an anti-ischemic drug, in his sample. In a different case, USport Football player Charles-William Tremblay was reprimanded for traces of salbutamol, an asthma medication, in his test.
The rules put in place by The CCES are a large component of an even greater mission to make competition ethical and as fair as possible. However, some of these rules do not account for individuals who have to maintain a life away from sport that necessitates medication.
Sterling is one such athlete. Although Sterling was less concerned about potential sanctions throughout the trial process of her medication for ADHD—since the substance has short half-life of the substance causing it to lose its potency more quickly—the exemption process proved to be a stressor in her life.
“I wanted to make sure when I went to Africa I had it down pat,” said Sterling. “[CCES] went back and forth with my doctor for a bit and I had to go in for extra appointments—it was really time consuming and stressful.”
Though Sterling believes that the process is fair, she says that there are some things that could be done differently.
“I think there should be an easier way to do it, for sure. It’s not a straightforward process. I was like the middleman between the doctor and the administration for so long.”
She also considered that the process overall may serve as a deterrent for some athletes to get help—especially when it comes to medication for mental health.
“If you had any sort of drug related to mental health, you would face the same sort of consequences where you wouldn’t be allowed to take it because it would technically be an enhancing drug,” she said.
Stirling pointed out that one of the concerns with mental health medication is the trial and error period that occurs when one attempts to find a prescription that works.
“I think if you had any mental health issues and you’re being tested [for doping] then you’re really put on the spot, and it almost makes you not want to try [medication] in the first place. You would just be taking a gamble trying some [medication] for a little bit, and if it does or doesn’t work for you then you have to go through that exemption process again.
“I wouldn’t want to worry about that risk while I have my academics going on, while I have a tournament every weekend.”
Assistant director of athletics and eligibility compliance officer Jeff Speedy is the on-campus entity that both enforces and educates student athletes about the CCES regulations and the True Sport ethical program.
“I’ve been doing this for 25 years now, I have never had a case where if the student athlete didn’t need the medication to be healthy and functional that it was disallowed by the CIS or USports,” said Speedy, adding that “I think [the process] could be [a deterrent], but to be honest if people like John [Richard] and I are doing our job, I don’t think it would be.”
“If we do our job on the front end explaining everything, then it’s really not that much inconvenience on the student athlete. I think if we are not doing our job and we don’t get out ahead of those kinds of things, then it could be something that is stressful to the student athlete.”
Sterling encourages other athletes to get the help that they need.
“I hope that other athletes wouldn’t be deterred from taking something if they feel like they need it. I wasn’t necessarily competing all the time and so I felt the freedom to get that help, and I am so glad that I did.”