Substance, Classification

The term restricted substances is one that is widely employed throughout the sports world; there are a number of meanings given this expression, depending on the sport and the substances referred to. The use of the expression is more common in everyday speech than it is in the formal regulations passed by national and international sports governing bodies. Restricted substances may also be variously described in the media as banned substances, prohibited substances, or controlled substances.

Each of the terms used for restricted substances has a distinct meaning, including:

  • Restricted substance: A drug, chemical, or other performance-enhancing compound that is not generally permitted for use by athletes, but which may be used if advance permission is obtained from the appropriate sport governing body by the athlete. The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has a protocol for the obtaining of such permission, known as the Therapeutic Use Exemption. A positive doping test for a restricted substance that is used by an athlete without the requisite permission is treated for sanction purposes as a positive test for a prohibited substance.
  • Prohibited substance: Such substances are illegal in every respect, with no allowance available in any circumstances for their use by an athlete. Anabolic steroids are the most well-known prohibited substance pursuant to the WADA Prohibited List, published on an annual basis. Prohibited substances may also relate to a prohibited procedure such as blood doping, which is a process that includes the ingestion of the hormone erythropoietin (EPO), itself a prohibited substance.
  • Banned substance: This expression has the same meaning in the context of performance-enhancing substances as prohibited substance. The National Football League drug policy refers to "banned substances"; Major League Baseball references "prohibited substances," both to the same effect.
  • Controlled substance: These are generally pharmaceutical products whose availability is subject to government regulation, as opposed to the rules of a sports governing body. Most countries have a statutory framework governing the distribution of such drugs similar to that of the United States' Controlled Substances Act, which defines, by way of schedules, the manner in which various substances are to be legally possessed and consumed. The schedules move progressively from the most controlled and ostensibly the most dangerous of substances, such as heroin (which has a medicinal use as a painkiller), to the least controlled substances, prescription medications such as hydrozodone, an active ingredient in the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) that include Cox-2 inhibitors in their formulation. Restricted substances in sport are similar as a concept to the government controlled substance legislation.

WADA is now the dominant regulatory agency in the battle against performance-enhancing substances as directed by all international sports bodies. The WADA Prohibited List, which is adopted as the law by all national Olympic organizations and virtually all international sports bodies, is comprehensive in its scope. An athlete must submit the Therapeutic Use Exemption to obtain permission to use an otherwise prohibited drug. A prominent example occurred prior to the 2006 Winter Olympics when a dispute arose regarding American skeleton racer Zach Lund, who used a hair restorative product that contained the prohibited substance finasteride, a prohibited steroid-masking agent.

Although the WADA rules make no specific mention of the term restricted substance, proof of the universal understanding of this shade of meaning is found in a number of national governing body interpretations of the WADA rules. The U.S. Track and Field Association (USTAF) guidelines refer to the WADA Therapeutic Exemption as "required for athletes who use Restricted Substances."

One of the most common restricted drugs approved for athletic use in international competition are the asthma medications, including beta-2 agonist, medications that assist in opening the airways to permit ease of breathing for the athlete. Glucocorticoids, a powerful class of painkilling medications that have other therapeutic uses, impact many of the human systems; these drugs are frequently the subject of exemption.

SEE ALSO Anabolic steroids; Diuretics; Doping tests; Ephedra; Glucocorticoids; Stimulants.