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FDA Issues Warning on THG

Swimming's governing body announces it will retest samples from world championships.

October 29, 2003|David Wharton | Times Staff Writer

The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning Tuesday about the potential danger of using a new, so-called designer steroid discovered in urine samples of several world-class athletes.

So far, four U.S. track and field athletes and a British sprinter have tested positive for tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG.

Though administrators are only beginning to learn about the drug, they believe it might pose health risks because of its apparent similarities to better-known steroids. They also said that because THG has not been approved, it cannot be legally manufactured or distributed.

"Our mission is to protect the American public from this potentially harmful product," John Taylor, associate commissioner for regulatory affairs, said in a written statement.

Among numerous medical benefits, anabolic steroids help build muscle mass but, when used improperly, can have long-term health consequences. The existence of this new form of steroid was discovered only after an anonymous coach tipped off authorities.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has since accused a small company called Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO) in Burlingame, Calif., of discovering and distributing THG. The company's founder, Victor Conte, has denied any wrongdoing.

On the same day the FDA issued its warning, the international organization that governs swimming, FINA, announced it would use a recently developed THG test to reexamine hundreds of urine samples taken during the world championships in July.

The move was applauded by the World Anti-Doping Agency's director general David Howman, who predicted other governing bodies might follow suit.

"A proactive approach in this matter is crucial," Howman has said. "It not only sends a message to athletes that cheating will not be tolerated, but also reassures the general public that definite steps are being taken to stamp out the scourge of doping in sport."

British sprinter Dwain Chambers is among those who have tested positive for THG, according to a statement released by his attorney. The Washington Post identified two of the four Americans as distance runner Regina Jacobs and shotputter Kevin Toth. The Chicago Tribune identified a third, hammer thrower John McEwen.

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