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Competitive safeguards committee recommends drug testing changes

Sport Science Institute to develop proposal that enhances NCAA testing for performance-enhancing drugs and development of a shared model of deterrence for recreational drug use

The NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports recommended extensive changes to the NCAA’s drug-testing policies when it convened in mid-December in Indianapolis.

The committee’s recommendations, which will be further developed into a formal legislative proposal, were twofold: first, strengthen the NCAA drug-testing program for performance-enhancing substances; second, development of a shared model of deterrence for recreational drug use (e.g. marijuana, alcohol and opiates) with a focus on educational programs instead of a traditional testing model. Under this approach the responsibility for deterrence will be shared between the NCAA and member schools. Use of recreational drugs should absolutely be discouraged, the committee members said; but because they do not provide a competitive advantage, alternative approaches to testing should be developed.

The Sport Science Institute staff will develop a proposed model based on those recommendations and will bring the committee’s proposal to the divisional governing bodies in the coming months. The staff, including NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline, will also discuss the committee’s recommendation today at a 2:30 p.m. NCAA Convention town hall session on recreational drug use deterrence.

The NCAA has tested student-athletes for banned substances, including recreational drugs, at championship events since 1986. But student-athlete drug use survey data indicate drug testing at championships hasn’t deterred recreational drug use: Alcohol use has dipped only slightly in recent years, marijuana use has remained relatively stable and prescription opiate use has grown.

Given that testing over nearly 30 years hasn’t served as an adequate deterrent – plus the fact that student-athletes who are penalized for recreational drug use by losing eligibility are more likely to drop out of school – the committee suggested the NCAA explore whether a different approach for recreational drugs is warranted.

The committee asked the Sport Science Institute staff to develop best practices that focus on biological, psychological and social factors of recreational drug use to be implemented by member institutions on campus to deter use. Such a model could include education, drug testing at the campus level, intervention and behavioral management programs. The SSI staff will now develop a proposed model and present it to the committee, which will bring a recommendation to the governing bodies of all three divisions.

“It is our hope the proposed model will address drug deterrence in the most effective way to change behavior,” said Brant Berkstresser, committee chair and head athletic trainer at Harvard University. “We feel that the NCAA should be focused on drug testing for those substances that may provide an unfair performance advantage.”

Given that stance, the committee strongly urged the NCAA membership to support enhanced performance-enhancing drug testing and consider additional strategies to deter use. Preventing the use of performance-enhancing drugs is critically important, the committee reasoned, not just for the health and well-being of student-athletes, but also to ensure competitive fairness.

Research shows use of performance-enhancing drugs among athletes falls significantly when they believe they have at least a 30 percent chance of getting caught. NCAA teams are now tested for performance-enhancing drugs at least once per year, but the testing program isn’t robust enough to meet that 30 percent threshold.

Not every athlete can be tested. Given that reality, the committee asked the Sport Science Institute staff to formulate a comprehensive approach that increases student-athletes’ awareness of the possibility of getting tested. The ideal program, the committee members noted, would entail testing in season, out of season and at NCAA championship events.