- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 30, 2009

Baseball’s legal steroid

With the 50-game suspension of Manny Ramirez earlier this month, it would seem Major League Baseball has solved its steroid problem.

Then again, as always, appearances can be deceiving.

The league’s drug policy has a gaping weak spot, one that can be described in four letters and that enables players to take an anabolic steroid without penalty and possibly cover up the use of other, illegal, steroids.

The culprit is DHEA, or dehydroepiandrosterone, which has been banned in the Olympics and just about every major pro sports league in the United States — except MLB.

The reason is that, in the eyes of the U.S. government, DHEA is no different than Vitamin E. Anyone can go to the neighborhood pharmacy and grab a bottle of DHEA, a hormone that converts testosterone in the body. The human body makes it naturally, but it decreases after age 30.

“It is being abused and it does have anabolic [muscle-building] effects,” Gary Wadler, a World Anti-Doping Agency committee member, told the New York Daily News. “We don’t ban one anabolic steroid because it’s more potent than another anabolic steroid; therefore, [DHEA] should be treated the same.”

So how is possible that a steroid is legal? The easy answer is Congress. When Congress passed the Anabolic Steroid Act of 2004, DHEA was the only so-called “prohormone” left off the banned list.

Why? Sen. Orrin Hatch, Utah Republican, is a longtime supporter of the substance. Hatch has described DHEA as an “anti-aging pill” — and his son and a former staff aide are D.C. lobbyists for DHEA makers. The Food and Drug Administration banned DHEA in 1985, but when Congress passed a law nine years later to deregulate dietary supplements, DHEA was excluded. Hatch wrote the bill.

Oddly enough, DHEA is banned in minor league baseball. But because the majors’ drug policy must be negotiated with the players union, DHEA was left off the prohibited list. The union is adamant that players should not be treated differently than anyone else when it comes to drugs.

What it all means is that players who test positive for elevated testosterone levels have a fallback — they can say they were taking DHEA. In fact, it was widely reported that Ramirez was going to use that excuse until MLB discovered he had a prescription for a banned female fertility drug.

Right now, there’s no other over-the-counter, muscle-building drug like DHEA. And the appearance that some players may be using a steroid — even a legal one — is a terrible thing for baseball.

Saturday’s Best Bet on Television

Last year, Detroit shut out Pittsburgh in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals. That won’t happen this time. 8 p.m., Chs. 4, 11

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