The most controversial issue in sports medicine is performance enhancement
beyond what can be achieved by proper nutrition and general conditioning. The
publicity has focused on drugs: first amphetamines, now steroids, next human
growth hormone and other genetic engineering products. The problems are not
limited to drugs. Biomechanics and the use of direct muscle stimulation tools
are changing the nature of training and allowing the selective
overdevelopment of muscle groups. Improperly used, these techniques can
increase the probability of injury and disability.
Taking drugs to improve athletic performance has been publicly deplored but
privately practiced for years. It has become a risky practice for both the athlete
and the physician. Most competitive athletic organizations have rules against
any use of drugs or doping to enhance performance. Urine testing has become
cheap, quick, and easy. The athlete who gets caught is likely to be excluded
from participation for some time. Blood doping is less easily detected but may
be more dangerous. Even the use of the patient’s own blood can be risky.
Physicians should remember that it is unethical and usually illegal to prescribe
for nontherapeutic purposes. As drug enforcement programs adopt zero-
tolerance policies, physicians with questionable prescribing habits can expect
to face investigation and prosecution.