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Expert suggests voluntary testing.

Byline: Mark Baker/The Register-Guard

Does the current sports drug testing system need to be scrapped, overhauled and replaced with a new model?

Dr. Don Catlin thinks so.

"I think there are other ways to do it," says the 68-year-old Catlin, the director of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory, whose clients include the United States Anti-Doping Agency, the National Football League, the NCAA and minor-league baseball.

Catlin, who opened the lab in 1982 to begin the process of testing Olympic athletes for the 1984 Summer Games in Los Angeles, has been espousing what he calls his "Volunteer Program" for years.

"There's no one smarter than Catlin," says Charles Yesalis, a professor emeritus of health policy and sports science at Penn State University and another one of America's leading experts on steroids and the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports. "If he thought it was working so great, why would he recommend this other program?"

Catlin's vision is to replace the current underfunded law-enforcement model, in which all athletes are treated as suspects, monitored and tested, with a voluntary system that would show athletes who take part in it are clean. Athletes who choose not to participate would immediately become suspect, he says.

Catlin's program would take profiles of volunteer athletes by creating a set of "biomarkers" - blood pressure, cholesterol, testosterone, hemoglobin - that show normal ranges for each athlete.

In an interview with "Outside" magazine, Catlin said athletes who cheat are afraid of being discovered so they don't often go to doctors, further endangering their health.

`People are following this old model - run 'em down, chase 'em, find 'em, assume they are guilty, drag them into testing,' Catlin said in the article. `And athletes still get away with stuff, and I maintain you can get away with stuff with everybody looking right at you.'

His idea does have one controversial aspect: Test subjects would be given performance- enhancing drugs for a limited time, comparing biomarkers to look for change.

Before the current system is scrapped, the International Olympic Committee, the NCAA, the NFL and all of the other "acronyms," Yesalis says, should create a $100 million pool and let the world's leading chemists take a crack at creating a new drug-testing system that could foil the difficulties of testing for human growth hormone, EPO and designer drugs.

If, after five years, "the loopholes are not dramatically changed, I'd say get rid of drug testing," Yesalis says. "All it does is put up a facade that you're watching clean sport."
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 17, 2006
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