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FDA Classifies Designer Steroid Thg As Illegal

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PHILADELPHIA - The government on Tuesday formally classified the once-undetectable steroid at the center of a federal grand jury investigation in California as an unapproved, and thus illegal, drug.

In a statement issued in Washington, the Food and Drug Administration said it is working with other law enforcement agencies "to aggressively engage, enforce, and prosecute those firms or individuals who manufacture, distribute, or market" the drug, called THG, or tetrahydrogestrinone.

The action was hailed by several sports organizations, including USA Track and Field, which is considering a new set of tougher drug rules that could include lifetime bans for first-time steroid use and fines of up to $100,000 for athletes.

"We're glad that the government and the FDA are getting more involved in the issue," said Jill Geer, director of communications for USATF. "The FDA is upping the ante on steroid regulation in general and these new designer steroids in particular. This is a great step forward, and it certainly backs the policy we're pursuing."

The investigation in California centers on Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO, based in the city of Burlingame. A number of top Olympic and professional athletes, including baseball players Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi and boxer Shane Mosley, have been subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury.

Robert Manfred, Major League Baseball's executive vice president for labor relations and human relations, said that he, too, was heartened by the government's prompt move.

"We're hopeful that the FDA action will lead to this drug being placed on the controlled-substance list," Manfred said. Should that happen, he added, baseball would be allowed to test players for it under the game's collective-bargaining agreement.

A spokesman for the National Basketball Association said he expected that his league, working in conjunction with its players' association, would move to add the performance-enhancing drug to its banned list.

"Our track record is pretty good," said Brian McIntyre, senior vice president of basketball communications for the NBA. "When andro (androstenedione) became a focal point, we added that (to the list). When ephedra became a focal point, we added that. ... I think at some point we probably will (add THG)."

The NFL has said that it would retest for THG any player samples that have been taken this season, and that anyone who turns up positive would be suspended under the league's steroid rules.

Now that a test has been developed to detect this new steroid, four unidentified U.S. track and field athletes have tested positive for it, as has Europe's top sprinter. The substance appears to have been designed with the specific intent of being undetectable by the standard steroid test.

David Howman, director general of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said that the discovery of THG presents new challenges for researchers trying to devise tests to ferret out the use of drugs in athletics.

"You have to get into the mind of the scientist who's preparing concoctions specifically designed to cheat in sport," Howman told reporters at the close of a drug symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo. "That's very different than getting into the mind of scientists who are trying to develop drugs to treat those afflicted with illness."

Howman said his agency was encouraging the various international sports federations to take samples they have already collected from athletes and retest the samples for THG.

On Tuesday, swimming's world governing body said it would retest hundreds of athletes' urine samples from this summer's world championships.

"We are waiting for the process to take place, but we have a funny suspicion that there may be more that are going to come out of the woodwork," Howman said. "I'm sure there are some athletes out there that have their fingers crossed very tightly."

It is not known who developed THG or how widespread its use has been. U.S. drug authorities learned about it this summer when an unidentified coach gave them a sample of it.

The FDA said that THG and other anabolic steroids "can have serious long-term health consequences in men, women and children."


Staff writers Jim Salisbury and Ashley McGeachy Fox contributed to this article.


(c) 2003, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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