U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA)

The U.S Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) was formed in October 2000, as a part of a concerted worldwide effort to combat drug cheating, popularly known in sport as "doping." The founding of the USADA was of acute importance to the credibility of drug testing and enforcement mechanisms in the United States, as the international sport community had been vocal concerning the perceived lack of interest in American sport to police the use of steroids and similar performance-enhancing products.

The USADA is legally associated to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), through the WADA Anti-Doping Code, to which the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) is a signatory. Through this relationship, it is the stated mission of the USADA to preserve the well-being of Olympic sport. The USADA seeks to advance this mission on four separate bases: research, education, the conduct of doping tests (both in-competition and out-of-competition), and the provision of an adjudication system, where disputes as to the outcome of a particular test may be arbitrated on the model provided by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). From October 2000, the USADA has possessed the full authority to regulate all aspects of the United States Anti-Doping programs.

In its most visible function, the conduct of doping tests, the USADA conducted 8,175 tests in 2005, of which almost 5,000 were a part of the USADA's comprehensive out-of-competition testing program. Most out-of-competition tests were conducted at either the home or the training facility of the athlete. All such tests were conducted in accordance with the protocols developed by WADA. Approximately 25% of the out-of-competition testing was performed as a lead-up to the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. Most of the testing conducted was with respect to American athletes; the USADA also conducted tests at the request of other national anti-doping agencies or WADA. Of the tests conducted, 22 produced a positive result—either directly determined through scientific analysis or through the refusal of the athlete to provide a sample—resulting in a deemed positive result.

The second most prominent aspect of the work of the USADA is the research that it funds into new or improved methods of performance-enhancing substance detection. Two recent projects have included the refinement of a steroid-detecting technology, a gas chromatography/combustion/isotope ratio mass spectrometry, and the development of a marker for the enhanced detection of the presence of a synthetic human growth hormone (hGH) in bodily fluid test samples.

The USADA mandate extends to United States Olympic team athletes, athletes who are seeking a place on the Olympic team, athletes participating in the Pan American Games, and athletes who are a part of the quadrennial Paralympics teams. The other prominent aspects of the American sports landscape, such as the National Football League (NFL), the National Basketball Association (NBA), Major League Baseball (MLB), or the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), each provide for their own anti-doping procedures, to which the USADA is not necessarily a party.

The most high profile illegal substance case in which the USADA has been involved did not involve any tests conducted by the organization. In 2003, an anonymous party forwarded a used syringe to the USADA that was subsequently determined to contain the so-called designer steroid nandrolone, a steroid formulation that had been distributed by the San Francisco-based athletic supplement company, the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative (BALCO). The investigation conducted by the USADA linked a number of prominent American athletes to the illegal use of this anabolic steroid.

As an agency with a direct relationship to WADA, the USADA has endorsed the principle that the defense of "mistake," as it may be advanced by an athlete in a positive doping test scenario, will be difficult to maintain. The "I didn't know" has been routinely dismissed by WADA as a legitimate answer to a positive test since the late 1990s.The 2006 case of American skeleton racer Zach Lund tested this issue. Lund tested positive for the presence of a drug known as finasteride, a substance contained in a hair restoration formulation used by Lund for a number of years. In 2005, finasteride was added to the WADA Prohibited List, rendering it a banned substance; finasteride is often employed as a steroid-masking agent. After Lund was initially suspended by the FIBT, the international federation that governs bobsled and skeleton racing, he appealed to the USADA to permit his reinstatement to the American Winter Olympics team for 2006. The USADA took the unusual step of warning Lund, as opposed to imposing a suspension from international competition. WADA appealed the USADA decision to the CAS, which handed Lund a one-year suspension, while criticizing WADA for the manner in which finasteride appeared on the Prohibited List.

SEE ALSO Doping tests; International Olympic Committee (IOC); Prohibited substances (competition bans); World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).