HGH In The NFL, Rampant Use Reported

No matter what you think about Peyton Manning—he used, he didn’t use, you don’t care either way—one thing is certain in the wake of Al Jazeera’s bombshell allegations: The NFL‘s drug-testing program continues to have a massive, gaping hole when it comes to HGH.

One veteran NFL player put it this way: “Steroids aren’t the problem. HGH is the big problem. For the past four or five years, the league has been almost overrun by HGH. … The new testing procedures aren’t catching anyone, because players know there is almost no way to get caught.”

Like the NFL’s marijuana policy, the player said, a player using HGH will only get caught “if the NFL gets really, really lucky, like win-the-Lotto-every-month lucky.”

Players Bleacher Report spoke to estimated that somewhere in the range of 10 to 40 percent of current players use HGH. Various former players have had similar and even higher estimates. Former quarterback Boomer Esiason once said 20 percent of the league used HGH. Former quarterback Brady Quinn estimated the number to be 40 to 50 percent on the Roughing the Passer podcast on CBS Sports.

This apparent rampant use of HGH over the past five years or more has created—as one player explained—a league of “superfreaks” who continue to run faster, jump higher and break records. Quinn said he believes this is behind the rash of injuries across the NFL this past season, and players interviewed by Bleacher Report had similar concerns: that the massive use of the drug, or others like it, will have long-term health ramifications. Their worries sound similar to the concerns expressed by some players in the 1980s and 1990s about concussions.

“The bodies of players are basically acting as chemistry sets,” one veteran said. “What’s going to happen to these guys five or 10 years from now?”

All of this may change next season, when the league goes to a different type of test. Then, the league’s policy could be much tougher. More on that in a moment.

For now, the league’s testing program has no teeth, and a half-dozen players interviewed for this story say the reason why comes down to one word: isoform.

The NFL and union agreed to HGH testing in 2011. Testing did not begin until October 2014. The NFL says there are about 40 random tests a week during the regular season, five random tests per team during the postseason and other players who are subject to testing because of cause. Violators of the HGH policy are subject to a four-game suspension.

Adolpho Birch, the NFL’s senior vice president for labor policy, was asked if an HGH user has been caught by the NFL’s testing.

Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

“Remember, despite our efforts, the union would not agree to publishing the substances: Suffice it to say that it is as low as can be,” Birch told Bleacher Report in an email. “But I keep trying to emphasize that doesn’t mean the test is inferior, or that it is not sufficiently deterring use.”

When Birch says “as low as can be,” he is saying no player has been caught yet.

An email to George Atallah, the union’s assistant executive director of external affairs, was not immediately returned.

Back to isoform: The problem, longtime anti-doping analyst Don Catlin told USA Today‘s Brent Schrotenboer in February, is that isoform testing only works if the player is tested within a few hours of using HGH. It “doesn’t catch many people at all,” he said. “It’s not a test that’s designed to really do that. It will catch you if you just used it a few hours ago, but if it’s a day or more, it’s not going to find you.”

In other words, using the isoform test is the equivalent of the police staking out a house days after it was burgled.

Players say the entire player base is aware of this and that that is why there’s no fear of the league’s HGH testing procedure.

One player remembers a team union player representative briefing the team after the league and players agreed to the testing procedures. The message of the team rep, this player said, was that there’s little chance any player would ever get caught under these rules.

But this is where things get interesting, because Birch said the league will soon use a different form of testing.

“We are currently using isoform,” he said, “but I expect that we will add biomarker in the offseason.”

As David Epstein wrote for SI.com’s MMQB in July, “The biomarker test does not pick up doping within the previous two days, but the detection window extends back beyond that for at least a week, so it has the potential to be much more effective than the isoform test.” That would dramatically increase the chances of a cheating player getting caught. This type of testing, like all testing, would have to be agreed upon by the union.

What exactly is HGH? It’s a hormone that increases strength and reduces fat. Yet the characteristic of HGH that is also of great interest to NFL players is it helps the body heal from injury faster.

One of the only times the NFL catches HGH cheats are in instances like the one that involved former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, who admitted to law enforcement officials in 2007 that he used HGH. This admission led to a four-game suspension.

Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

“I used it. I never had an issue with my groin ever again,” Harrison, now an analyst, said on NBC this past week. “It wasn’t smart. I put a foreign substance in my body and I don’t know the long-term effects. I have a black cloud over my career. I played 15 years and that doesn’t feel good. That’s embarrassing. But also I look at the kids, my kids and the kids that look up to me, and now I have to tell them why I did it. Maybe I can use this opportunity to let them know it’s not worth it, point blank, period. It’s just not worth it.”

Apparently, though, it’s worth it to many players in the NFL. It seems clear that they’re using HGH, and for now, it seems clear that there’s little chance they’ll be caught doing it.

 

Human Growth Hormone, Testosterone, Biogenesis and the MLB Supplement Game

MLB is trying very hard to rid itself of performance enhancing drugs. It has banned a long list of steroids and other products. Recently, Commissioner Selig has suspended 13 players for between 50 games to 211 games for Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees third baseman. These suspensions were based on evidence of drug use obtained from the records of Biogenesis, a Miami Youth Clinic.

Last night at dinner with my friend, Jeff Husband, I decided to get the story from him. Jeff is a noted orthopedic surgeon at Tria and one of the leading hand surgeons in the country. (I learned that from another friend who told me she had been operated on by the “leading hand surgeon, Jeff Husband”.) I asked Jeff just what it was that Biogenesis was giving these players. He then explained the Human Growth Hormone (hGH) and testosterone therapies that Biogenesis offered. He said this sort of therapy was common.  For example, hGH had legitimate uses but he was not sure of the beneficial effect in athletics. For a description, look here.

For testoterone, again the benefits are increased strength, lean body mass, and endurance, but the potential side effects, he mentioned many, were very dangerous. For a description look here. However, it seems that players are very eager to take these supplements to enhance performance, and they think it works. What is it that the players seek that causes them to risk life, health and their careers by using these products?

The simple answer is “Youth.” We all think of that and recall some point in our lives that we would like to return to, but most of us recognize that there are benefits to maturity, as well, and we bask in those benefits. For a baseball player, that point in time is when they were 27 and they were at the peak of their perfomance. If they can maintain that level for just a few years, they will have signed a multi-year, mega-million dollar contract, and can then stop using. It is a very enticing prospect and one that is hard, if not impossible, to resist.

Jeff and I are not immune to that prospect, and, some years ago, we started using a product called Protandim. My introduction to Protandim occured while lawyering a stock trade for one of the inventors of the product.  I found it to be beneficial. Then the stock deal tanked and I ended up defending a client in a suit brought by the inventor. Now Protandim was supposed to be a magical combination of herbs and spices, that working synergistically, cured all ills, The formula was secret as to the ratio of the various ingredients, but they were listed on the package.

During the pre-trial discovery process, I deposed the inventor and came away with the impression that there was no way this fellow was ever going to invent anything of scientific merit. I then looked at the product and investigated the ingredients, mainly Turmeric, see here . I found that the beneficial effect of the product was due almost entirely to the large amount of Turmeric, an Indian spice in the Ayurvedic tradition, that it contained. I now know others who have discovered Turmeric.

The point of this story is to point out that the search for youth is not just for athletes, but for all of us. Protandim is sold in a multi-level distribution program that is very popular.

A quick search of the web disclosed a multitude of such products, each offering the benefits that the baseball players were seeking from hGH and testosterone at clinics like Biogenesis. The search will continue as it always has, I only hope for good outcomes and the avoidance of the dangers of overuse, which are ever present. Sports must maintain its vigil, abusers suspended and others educated. I hope for sucess in this area soon.

Drug Use and the Distance Runner

This may or may not be my first blog posting as I tried it last week and the post has not appeared anywhere, although I thought I had done all the appropriate steps to do so. So here we go again.
The most memorable item from the last week was an interview I did with the BBC on drug use among distance runners. The topic is relevant, said the interviewer, due to new interest in the subject. He didn’t say more. I mentioned that distance runners have the same needs cyclists have. These needs are stamina and lean body strength. So EPO, HGH, testosterone, some steroids and high altitude testing or use of high altitude tents would be the order of the day. I also mentioned that Jose Canseco said “that drugs are popular because they work.” 
Without getting into the many drug penalties assessed by USADA etc. over the decades, the most interesting aspect of this is that drug use has a very positive psychological benefit as well. The runner in a marathon goes through the “wall” better if he/she knows they are befitting from drugs. This also has an effect on the oppositon who feels unable to compete against a doper. This was the reason given for pitchers to use steroids when facing hitters who used the drugs. The pitchers needed to be enhanced as well.
This asks the question if drug use has a psychological benefit, wouldn’t placebo do the same? A trainer could give a player a tablet of milk sugar, tell them to use only one, never before sleeping, only four hours before competing, etc. and the runner/player would have all the benefits of placebo without the danger of being tested positive.
This is an interesting thought, and it is appropriate for a first blog because this is a subject that I enjoy writing about.