Male Enhancement Drugs Can Get You Busted for Doping

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You might understand why the temptation to enhance one’s manhood could prove irresistible, especially among young men in a society that increasingly values and publicizes sexual prowess. But would you take the risk if you knew it might ruin your career?

That’s exactly the situation Olympic sprinting champion LaShawn Merritt faced when he was caught in a doping scandal that cost him a 21-month suspension from competition. He couldn’t figure out why his tests had come back positive for steroids, thinking first it was from his acne medication. When that came back clear, he figured it out in what must have been a moment of horror—his secret ExtenZe habit was responsible.

Key Ingredients

ExtenZe is an over-the-counter herbal supplement that claims to make the penis up to 27% larger and enhance sexual pleasure. Merritt had purchased the supplement several times between December 2009 and January 2010, according to a 7-11 clerk who came forward to testify on his behalf. What Merritt didn’t do was read the ingredients list on the box. The ExtenZe ingredient list looks like something out of a medieval apothecary shop, with everything from Korean ginseng and horny goat weed, to velvet deer antler and “Ho Shou Wu” extract. It also contains DHEA and pregnenolone, which are steroid derivatives that are banned in athletic competition. These are the ingredients that tripped the doping tests.

Beware of Supplements

Many sports organizations, such as the NCAA, strongly recommend against dietary supplements for athletes for this very reason. The companies that make them make big promises about their products, claiming they do everything from enhance energy to boost fat burning, but few have the studies to back up their claims. The FDA does not regulate dietary supplements, which means that they may contain contaminants, trace metals, and even unlisted steroids. The former are bad for your health and the latter could get you busted for doping, even if you didn’t intend to.

Supplements do not have to undergo safety testing, and manufacturer’s claims do not have to be proven for the products to be sold in the U.S. Ingredients may change and not be accurately listed on the company’s website or on the packaging. Many supplements, including ExtenZe, cause side-effects, such as nausea, sleeplessness, anxiety, and heart palpitations.

Accidental Doping

Usually, doping is a matter of cheating. Athletes do it because they think they can get away with it and will do whatever they have to for a win. In the case of LaShawn Merritt, though, his positive test clearly was the result of an unfortunate and embarrassing accident. Typically, a first-time offender is punished with a 24-month suspension and disqualification from the next Olympic games after the suspension ends. In the case of LaShawn Merritt, he was able to convince officials that the substance had entered his system without his knowledge, so he was given only 21 months of suspension, allowing him to compete in the 2011 World Championships. He will also be allowed to compete in the 2012 Olympics. It’s an unusual case—normally athletes are held liable for what enters their bodies, regardless of how it gets there.

The Controversy

Merritt’s case remained controversial among some critics, who claim that all athletes who dope have excuses and lie about it. An argument can also be made that Merritt, a world-class athlete, should have known better than to take anything without checking what was in it first.

Supporters, however, point out that Merritt, who inspired the world at age 22, winning an Olympic gold dedicated to his late brother who had died falling from a window, had made an honest and youthful mistake, for which he paid dearly. While the suspension was bad, the publicity and humiliation for having taken ExtenZe to begin with was devastating. No doubt other young athletes will learn from Merritt’s mistake.