Despite the health and reputation risks, many Olympic athletes have taken dangerous performance-enhancing drugs to satisfy an insatiable appetite for victory and intense pressure to win.
Olympic organizers once turned a blind eye to doping, but as the mortalities piled up in the 20th century, they could no longer ignore its dangerous prevalence.
Although steroids and PEDs aren’t the first substances mentioned when commentators discuss addiction, as the following history shows, they are just as alluring and deadly as many of the more widely recognized recreational drugs.
Drugs in early Olympic Games
Early in the history of the Olympic Games, rules against using performance-enhancing substances and governing bodies existed without the enforcement of drug tests.
The first reported case of doping occurred at the 1904 Summer Olympics in St. Louis when the coach of American marathoner Tom Hicks gave him alcohol and strychnine at the 22-mile mark.
From there, scientific advances in amphetamine production (in the 1930s) and synthetic testosterone (produced in 1935) caused dangerous and unpredictable effects in athletes who used them.
Death from doping
Although reporters and even the event organizers knew about doping, many ignored the problem until athletes started dying from their dangerous, unregulated use of untested drugs.
In the 1950s, "this kind of unsupervised and rampant use of drugs (had become) the norm…Authorities (were) unwilling to punitively sanction drug use," according to a recent study about historical doping.
Then, at the 1960 Rome Summer Olympics, a young and promising Danish cyclist named Knut Jenson died during the Olympic road race. Investigators found that he had taken Ronicol, an amphetamine which caused his body to shut down.
The next casualty was in the 1967 Tour de France. Tommy Simpson died on television after he took amphetamines to increase his stamina.
Finally, in 1968, the International Olympic Committee conducted the first official drug tests on athletes competing in that year's games to stop the dangerous activity that had been going on behind the Olympic scenes.
Recent anti-doping resolutions and testing
Steroids came into focus in the late 1990s, after Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa battled for baseball's home run record and were both later accused of using steroids. This accusation caused irreparable damage to both their reputations.
In response to worldwide supplement production and confusion about where to draw the line between legal and illegal substance use, the World Anti-Doping Agency adopted the World Anti-Doping Code in 2004. This new code harmonized dozens of anti-doping rules and testing strategies.
A notable impact on Olympic drug testing was the following rule:
"Non-analytical rule violations have allowed anti-doping organizations to apply sanctions in cases where there is no positive doping sample, but where there may still be evidence that a doping violation has occurred."
In recent years, the agency has made amendments (the last in 2017) and continues to share information to keep ahead of the advancements in nondetectable PEDs.
United States efforts to curb doping
The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency is responsible for educating athletes and coaches to prevent doping and for administering drug tests.
"USADA is a signatory to the World Anti-Doping Code and has collected nearly 100,000 blood and urine samples in our 14-year history," according to its website.
However, persistent athletes continue to try techniques thought to beat drug tests, including:
• Providing synthetic urine samples
• Using diuretics before a urine test
• Removing tainted blood and increasing the blood’s oxygen levels through blood transfusions
• Using erythropoietin to stimulate red blood cell production
• Seeking legal alternatives, bypassing rulings related to tested drugs and banned substances lists
Treatment for addiction
Even famous and accomplished individuals struggle with drugs. Admitting you have a problem is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. It's also a commitment to getting well.
Entering a treatment program that addresses both the underlying psychological dependence and the physical side effects of drugs offers the best chance for a long-lasting, holistic recovery.
At The Treatment Center of The Palm Beaches, we understand how difficult it is to overcome addiction alone.
Contact us today for more information about our personalized treatment options and to learn more about the kind of recovery programs that would be right for you.