THE FINAL WHISTLE - Article by Jenni Staples

The Final Whistle

With our 2014 season just underway, it’s unfortunate that the use of drugs in sport have once again topped the headlines. There is news that the use of prescription sleeping pills is rampant in the Australian Football League and the National Rugby League. Apparently, these are being combined with energy drinks.

While there is reason to be thankful that drug use is not rampant in the Big V League, one can’t help to wonder why drugs continue to arise as a problem in sport. Whether it’s our neighbouring fellow athletes in New Zealand or some of the professional athletes of the United States, the topic can never seem to stray from the headlines. It was just over a year ago that the Australian government revealed new measures to crack down on unethical behaviour in sport and performance-enhancing drugs in the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority Amendment Bill of February 2013. But as the Sydney Morning Herald reports, three Australian sprinters were just banned for drug breaches.

Are Drugs a Problem for Sport or Society?

The controversy surrounding these prescription pill cocktails and energy drinks seems to be an all new low for sport that has been fighting the use of illegal substances for years. When people combine the sleeping pills with energy drinks, the drugs can create an amphetamine-like high without violating any anti-doping regulations. It’s hard to even comprehend why someone would put not only their health at risk but their livelihood as well. While it is up to individuals to make the right choices in life, professional athletes know that they are expected to take care of themselves properly in order to help them perform at their best. Therefore, one must question whether the issue of prescription drugs is truly a problem for sport or for society as a whole.

After all, modern societies around the world are overflowing with prescription drugs especially in western cultures. Whether people need help sleeping or a boost of energy, a pill is usually the remedy of choice. The medical prescription industry is thriving around the world. It's been discovered that 15.3 million prescriptions were written in England alone for sleeping medication in 2013. Here in Australia, a National Drug Strategy Household Survey from 2010 revealed that just over three percent of the population had consumed sleeping pills for a non-medical purpose while nearly 10 percent were dependent on them.

Issues Addressed at Societal Levels Benefit Sport

All athletes should be aware that the use of sleeping pills can be fatal. In Victoria, 56 deaths were reported in 2010 resulting from benzodiazepines. That figure represents nearly 20 percent of all drug-related deaths that were reported in the city. Some drugs are even reported to have unusual side effects such as sleep walking on balconies. The question on everyone’s mind is how this issue is going to be managed. While it is likely that some sort of ban will be introduced, it is also likely that players will find another means that could even be more dangerous. This suggests that legislators must find a solution to a bigger problem that impacts society as a whole rather than merely focusing on the implications on athletes. If the issue can be addressed at a societal level, that will ultimately benefit sport as well.

Basketball Australia has always taken an active stance against the use of drugs in sport and so far, it seems to have not infiltrated or become part of basketball culture in Australia. Records dating as far back as 1997 indicate that there have never been instances of performance enhancing drug use. Statistics for Australia as a whole are unfortunately not as generous. Three people die every day in the country from drug overdoses. Those deaths totalled 1,383 in 2011 according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Perhaps if societal addiction and dependency on prescription drugs can be addressed, the impact on sports will also be reduced. But it is an issue in society that will not go away without intervention. Whether it is steroids or prescription drugs, people can develop addictions even if they begin taking drugs for legitimate medical reasons. While dependency itself does not imply addiction, when a person begins to crave more, an addiction may be developing.

Better Education is a Good Start

While no definitive solutions have been released on tackling the use of prescription drugs in sport, the positive record of Basketball Australia offers a possible path. The organization is known for its highly successful ‘Illicit Drugs in Sport’ education program that has been presented to athletes across the country. Last year, Basketball Australia also began incorporating social media into the training to help spread the message. Education is a good starting point and the more athletes are informed about the harm of prescription drugs at an early age, the better a position they will be in to make the right choices later on.

Ultimately, there is just no room for drugs in sport. We should be proud that it has never been a problem in the Big V Basketball league and we would like it to stay that way. Everyone should take a zero tolerance approach to it before drugs blow the final whistle on your career or even your life.



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