Dr. Don Catlin M.D. Interview - The Controversial subject of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs)
By David Tyler, Doghouse Boxing (June 20, 2011) Doghouse Boxing
Dr. Don Catlin  M.D.
Please welcome into the doghouse, the world's foremost expert in the discipline of performance-enhancing drugs. For a quarter century, Dr. Catlin served as director of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Lab and grew it into the world’s largest testing facility of performance-enhancing drugs. Today, he is focused on research and testing development at the Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization Anti-Doping Research, Inc.

David Tyler – Dr. Catlin as a Physician and expert in drugs, it is an honor to interview you about the very controversial subject of performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Let’s start the interview with this question, what are the most popular PEDs used by athletes today?

Dr. Catlin – I would say anabolic steroids and erythropoietin (EPO).

DT- Boxing is a sport that requires strength and endurance. If a boxer was looking at PEDs to gain an edge on the competition, which would he most likely choose?

Dr. C –
Certainly EPO and anabolic steroids which would help make him or her stronger, faster, and gain that endurance edge.

DT – Specifically, what happens when the boxer takes steroids and EPO, I mean what benefits does the athlete obtain by taking these drugs?

Dr. C – The EPO increases red blood cells in the body and these cells carry oxygen which is delivered to muscles. The more oxygen you get to the muscles, the stronger you will be and have better endurance.

DT – Doctor, let’s say we have two boxers in the ring for a championship bout which last 12 rounds. One of the participants is taking EPO, the other is not. In theory, the fighter taking the EPO would be stronger and able to easily go 12 rounds due to the benefits of EPO that you explained in the previous question?

Dr. C – I would think so. I have never seen a study comparing two boxers in the situation that you described but in theory I would agree.

DT- Sir, if a fighter was taking EPO would he have an advantage over a more experienced fighter not taking PEDs?

Dr. C – That’s hard to say because of the many factors involved by stating that one fighter is more experienced. All things being equal, the fighter taking the EPO would be able to last longer than his opponent not taking EPO. I am hearing more and more about boxers taking EPO.

DT – Are the PEDs less effective for a complex sport like boxing than a sport like cycling or track where you simply put one foot ahead of the other?

Dr. C
– I really don’t know, but I would think not. That question requires so many assumptions that I really couldn’t give you a good answer.

DT – Doctor, can you look at an athlete and tell if he is using PEDs?

Dr. C
– No, the only way would be by testing.

DT – Sir, how long after ingestion do the PEDs remain detectable in blood and/or urine?

Dr. C – Steroids can last a day or 40 days depending on which type. Of course the smart ones would take a short acting anabolic steroid, like testosterone. If you take a long acting steroid, you will eventually get caught by the testing agency. There are many kinds and doses of EPO and the test is not very sensitive so I would say that we could detect modest doses for up to three days in urine.

DT – I have always understood that the EPO molecule breaks down rather quickly in urine, not so?

Dr. C –
That’s true but with the modern test methodologies, you can still detect a moderate dose in urine for a few days.

DT – I have heard very little about athletes getting caught using EPO or steroids during the random testing performed. Is this do to the limitations in testing?

Dr. C –
In the case of boxers, they are not tested for EPO unless a WADA (World Anti Doping Agency) laboratory is doing the testing. We also know that there are certain limitations to the testing. How limited they are depends on the believer and what he thinks are the limitations. I could take testosterone and you could test me frequently and probably never catch me because I know what I am doing. Many athletes and their advisors have studied the limitations in testing and the science that it involves. Unfortunately they may be able to get away taking these drugs for the short term but sooner or later a more sensitive test will be developed or they will make a mistake. It’s still risky taking the drugs because you always have a chance getting caught.

DT – Dr. Catlin, before this next question, it’s my belief that all states that sanction professional boxing require urine PED testing for steroids and EPO……

Dr. C
– Pardon me for interrupting but I doubt that many commissions require a test for EPO.

DT – Sir, not even in Las Vegas, Nevada?

Dr. C
– I do not know their testing menu, but I seriously doubt it requires EPO testing because there is not a WADA laboratory located in Las Vegas. The EPO test is very complex and takes several days to obtain results.

DT - Wow, the most widely abused PED, EPO is not even tested in urine for professional boxing. I find that amazing to say the least. What are your thoughts about random style Olympic testing for PEDs as opposed to agreeing to test on certain dates?

Dr. C – David, I can’t deal with those kinds of hypotheticals because I don’t know all the facts. The standard way of testing for PEDs is to sign the consent forms and keep the testing company informed where you will be every day. That’s the way the WADA program works. If you are testing outside of WADA, I would have to know the details before making any comment on the efficacy of the testing.

DT – Is it true that some of the cyclists taking the PEDs have become professional experts in regards to the drugs they are ingesting?

Dr. C – Not just cyclists, but in all sports, some more than others. Cycling is the best example of a group of people who take these drugs and are able to avoid detection by fooling around with the dose and other applications. There is a degree of infestation with EPO within each sport. There are people who have become very good at beating these tests.

DT – If I was taking PEDs I would also know and use every possible way of avoiding detection? From what I have been reading I would say Lance Armstrong would be considered a global expert on every aspect of EPO usage and testing?

Dr. C –
I don’t speak about athletes by name. I would say that it’s fair to say many athletes are “experts” about the usage and detection of the drugs they are taking.

DT – I understand. Doctor, what I don’t understand is this very simple fact. If you are not taking PEDs, why would you not agree to test on a daily basis?

Dr. C
David, if you are not taking these drugs I would think you would want to be tested daily.

DT – Any drawbacks to daily testing?

Dr. C
– One could be the cost factors.

DT – Let’s discuss the cost of the tests. How much does a urine test for anabolic steroids and EPO cost?

Dr. C
– There are many factors that go into the pricing of the test. I would say that you could get the anabolic steroid test for between one and two hundred dollars but there are many other factors to consider. For example if you require the results in 24 hours it will be more expensive compared to a one week turnaround. If you add EPO to the testing panel, the cost goes up significantly. Maybe you could get EPO testing for between $300 and $500.00.

DT – Dr. Catlin, what are the short term and long term health consequences for athletes who use PEDs?

Dr. C
– For EPO, if you take to much you might experience blood clots, and hypertension. Your blood could get thick and your heart would have trouble circulating the blood through your body. This may result in a heart attack or blood clotting.

DT – Anabolic Steroids?

Dr. C – There is very few acute effects that would be meaningful. You would have to take them for a couple of weeks to notice the side effects such as changes in your blood levels of hormones. There would be a lot of internal changes in hormone levels. Males can become sterile. The skin is subject to rashes, balding may occur and men develop breasts. For women, the breasts shrink and they develop hair in unwanted places.

DT – How about growth hormones which are used by athletes to reduce the down time during workouts?

Dr. C – If you take them long enough, you would get chronic effects such as your head, hands, and feet get bigger.

DT – How is it possible to fool the drug testing when using anabolic steroids and EPO?

Dr. C
– David, I don’t feel comfortable answering that question because I’m not in the business of telling people how to beat the testing.

DT – I understand completely. Would I be correct in saying that there are many, many, ways of compromising the testing? Say drinking a gallon of water a few hours prior to a PED urine test?

Dr. C
– You would be correct.

DT – Dr. Catlin, I am curious about where you think we are today in reducing PED usage by better testing than we were back in 1998 when a few baseball players hit tons of homeruns which resulted in the era of steroid abuse. Has the level of PED abuse decreased during the years?

Dr. C – I used to think that if you had the right test, the right information, you could control things with drug testing. Now I will admit that there are so many ways to avoid detection. We have solved all the easy problems in drug testing; now we are working on the more complex ones. With all the new drugs it makes drug testing much more difficult. The current testing makes it more difficult for athletes to dope but they are finding more ways to dope without detection. The use of PEDs has decreased but it is not possible to say by how much.

DT – Is it fair to say it’s a battle of good chemist versus bad chemists?

Dr. C
– In a way yes, the good chemist are the testers. The bad ones are not necessarily people who are making designer drugs. Many of the drugs are made by legitimate pharmaceutical companies.

DT – Sir, thank you for agreeing to this very informative interview. Keep fighting the good fight in the war on PEDs.

Dr. C
– David, you are welcome and I would like to mention that I am starting a voluntary testing program for boxers.

DT- I think this is a great idea that should migrate into all sports. If the athlete is clean, then he should want everyone to know that his performance is not artificially inflated by PEDs.

Readers: Your thoughts about PED testing for boxers? E-mail me at: dtyler53@cox.net. Many thanks for visiting doghouse boxing and reading this interview.

Readers: Many thanks to everyone that donates even one dollar to the Dr. Atlas Foundation.

***David Tyler replies to all his e-mails and loves to hear from the readers. Comments, Questions, Suggestions, E-mail David now at: dtyler53@cox.net

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