This year athletes take new forms of drug tests in the Sports Medicine Department’s attempt to make drug testing a quicker and more fair process. Changes include new saliva tests and computer-randomized selection.
“We stepped up the game in the last few years and added different tests to deter people from using harmful drugs that are detrimental to their health and performance and to make sure student athletes are making good decisions that adhere to the NCAA rules. We do not want any positive tests,” Chad Parker, director of sports medicine, said.
Student athletes showed understanding to the added method, but expressed concerns of the unclarity of NCAA drug rules and the list of substances that are or aren’t banned and how accurate or strict these tests will be.
“I get that the NCAA doesn’t want athletes to be on ridiculous drugs, or have unfair advantages, but at the same time it's kind of a pain for athletes who want to take things like protein supplements, and don't know if they're allowed,” sophomore men’s soccer player Mason Debaets said.
According to student athletes the list of illegal substances is unclear and can cause some confusion leading to failed drug tests.
“Apparently even certain amounts of caffeine can cause you to fail a drug test,” Debaets said. “Everyone should abide by the same rules. The biggest thing is just with supplements and stuff. There needs to be a clear line on what we are allowed to take versus what we're not allowed to take. Currently, it’s a little too vague to most of us.”
Although the rules may seem unclear, Parker assures that these tests are not meant to catch athletes. The athletes are selected at random from each team using a randomizer software either on Excel, sports medicine’s electronic medical record system or other computer-based randomizers. Starting this year, those selected are once again randomized between urine sample, or the new form of testing, saliva samples.
When an athlete tests positive, sports medicine supports them to help make better decisions in the future. Students are referred to counseling where medical professionals or counselors will evaluate them to make sure no underlying problems are leading to drug use, further educate them in good choices and aid them with any appeals they may have.
“We try to always mix it up. It could be two weeks apart, it could be four. We try to randomize when we do it within each month to not make in monotonous or predictable. There isn't a formula for this. As much as some athletes think that we select them and how they get tested, we have no control over who the software chooses,” Parker said.
There has not been a change in the policy since last year, except for the type of tests.
Students have also confirmed that although the new test makes it nearly impossible to tamper with results, it does cause difficulty during the process sometimes making it take more time than necessary.
“I think the new testing is a little weird but much better because it doesn’t allow people to cheat the test. The urine test is much easier because it takes a lot less time to complete. We had a couple problems with the saliva test. Sometimes there wasn’t enough saliva in the cup to get the results and so it takes longer than urine test, but overall it isn’t too bad,” sophomore baseball player Kyle Durham said.
With the new saliva tests, student athletes are given a thin stick with a piece of compact cotton attached to the end of it and told to hold the cotton in their mouth to soak the cotton with as much saliva as possible. The results take as little as three minutes to come back depending on how much saliva is provided. The more saliva in the sample, the faster the results.
“The new method provides a different timetable for us. The urine test tests for use of drugs within the last 24 hours to a week or more, while the saliva test tests for more recent use. This is the main reason we added it in, to completely randomize how we test for different drug uses,” Parker said.
While Parker is not allowed to give any specifics about the amount of failed or passed drug tests due to NCAA policy, he was able to explain that the reasoning behind the new method was not due to student or drug test violations.
“It's important to note that if an athlete tests positive on any drug test, they aren't treated as a criminal or a bad person, they just may be faced with whatever consequences occur because of their actions,” Parker said.
According to Parker, Eckerd Sports Medicine would prefer to introduce an outside company to do testing, but are currently unable to due to cost. Parker also said that Sports Medicine plans on continuing the reevaluation of their testing methods.