The BBC recently exposed a dramatic fall in the number of drug tests performed by UK Anti-Doping.
British 5,000m champion Jessica Judd described this as a ‘free-for-all.’ "I've no results to show I've done this year clean…if I haven't then how many other people haven’t?”
Jessica’s concerns are backed up by statistics from UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) itself. In the first half of 2019, UKAD performed 5,155 tests. In 2020, just 1,532.
The reason why is clear: the first 6 months of 2020 saw the outbreak of COVID-19. It’s reasonable to expect that it took UKAD—like so many other organisations—time to adapt. But publishing the drop in test numbers was a controversial move.
Judd made the case that UKAD opened the door for British athletes to use performance-enhancing drugs without repercussion. In response, UKAD Director of Testing, Hamish Coffey, argued that publication was necessary for transparency.
He also noted that testing isn’t all about the numbers. Since it’s impossible to test every athlete, it’s more about intelligent targeting, which continued during the pandemic. However, Coffey admitted that UKAD expects athletes to take advantage, which suggests that anti-doping testing is, at least in part, a numbers game.
So what can we expect the impact to be on professional sport? Is there time to make up for the lack of drug testing? Can athletes still get proof that their achievements in 2020 were clean?
The problem with urine and blood testing for drugs
UKAD continued to undertake urine testing during the pandemic but blood tests were considered unsafe.
As we’ve previously discussed in the context of drug testing in Rugby Union, both urine and blood testing only report whether an athlete was using drugs close to the date of sampling.
With that in mind, it would be easy to conclude that it’s now too late to know whether athletes used performance-enhancing drugs earlier this year.
It’s certainly true that many athletes will slip through the net, but there is a way to test for drugs retrospectively.
Introducing hair testing for drugs
Unlike blood and urine, hair testing can provide a picture of drug use over the past 6 months or more, which means it could play a pivotal role in cleaning up the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Yet the question remains: is it now safe to test on the necessary scale?
Actually, it might be argued that it’s been relatively safe the whole time, and Cansford Laboratories are a strong case in point.
We’re one of the only drug and alcohol testing labs in the UK to remain fully operational throughout 2020. In fact, the lab not only continued operations but also maintained its normal high levels of service. 90% of test results, for example, were returned within 24 hours of arriving at our offices—an achievement none of our competitors came close to.
You can read about how we maintained operations during the pandemic on our blog, but we mention it here to demonstrate that testing can continue safely during the pandemic.
Yes, it’s a pandemic, so there’s a higher-than-normal risk associated with all activity. But risk is not absolute; it must be balanced against other factors, such as the risk of not testing vulnerable people suspected of drug and alcohol misuse.
The pandemic is expected to increase drug and alcohol problems, which is likely to result in behaviour that increases infection risk. Simultaneously, this could make substance addicts more vulnerable to serious health problems if they do contract the virus.
Similarly, in sports, the risk of testing must be balanced against the social impact of doping and unfair competition.
Safe drug testing must go on
In our opinion, with the proper procedures in place, the risk of exposure is low, and samples for drug and alcohol testing can be collected safely during the pandemic.
Therefore, we must continue in order to protect the vulnerable, as well as the sanctity of professional sporting events like the Olympic Games.
For further information on how COVID-19 is affecting drug and alcohol testing, download our free special report, ‘The Impact of COVID on Drug and Alcohol Misuse.’
Image: By Temanu Via Adobe Stock
Subscribe to Email Updates
Posts by Topic
- Workplace Drug Testing
- Hair drug testing
- Drug and alcohol testing
- Family Court
- Drug testing
- Cansford Laboratories
- Drug test results
- hair strand drug testing
- Alcohol testing
- Hair Collection
- In the press...
- Laboratory accreditation
- Chain of Custody
- Did you know?
- Drug and DNA testing
- Frequently Asked Questions
- New psychoactive substances
- Steroid Testing
- Drug test costs
- drug testing in sport
- ethics of hair testing
- Expert witness
- Oral fluid testing
- Scientific Presentations
- social workers
- vulnerable children