Duke University Toughens its Drug Testing Policy for Student-Athletes

Duke University Toughens its Drug Testing Policy for Student-Athletes

DURHAM, N.C.

      Duke University has strengthened its policy for student-athletes who test positive for steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, school officials announced recently.

      The new policy, which goes into effect immediately, states that any student-athlete who tests positive for anabolic steroids, blood doping or masking agents will be suspended from athletic participation for one year; a second offense would result in the termination of eligibility.

      The policy also calls for evaluation, treatment and counseling for any student-athlete who tests positive for any NCAA-banned substance other than steroids. A second offense would result in a student-athlete being suspended for a minimum of 50 percent of a season; a third violation would result in a permanent ban from competition.

      The penalties for non-performance enhancing drugs are basically the same as the university’s previous policy. But the old policy did not distinguish between “street” drugs and steroids, while the new one takes a “zero tolerance” stance toward steroids, says Duke law professor James E. Coleman Jr., who headed the committee that recommended the changes. Steroids, he says, undermine the integrity of athletic competition.

      “When athletes take steroids to cheat, they not only do potential damage to their health, but they gain an unfair competitive advantage,” says Chris Kennedy, senior associate director of athletics.

      The university policy also treats the use of masking agents, the refusal to submit to testing or attempts to manipulate a drug test as a positive test for steroids, Coleman says. “This eliminates any benefit for a student using steroids to skip a test and any incentive for a student using street drugs to skip a test,” he says.

      The new policy also calls for unannounced drug testing for all student-athletes on Duke’s 26 intercollegiate teams, and says that students are responsible for all substances in their bodies — including any nutritional and dietary supplements that may violate the university’s anti-doping policy. The policy does allow student-athletes to appeal a violation, but they may not appeal solely on the grounds that they unwittingly used a product that contained a banned substance.

      The new policy lays out the rationale for the changes: “Systematic drug testing is appropriate and necessary to ensure the health, safety and welfare of our student-athletes, to promote fair competition in intercollegiate athletics, to affirm compliance with applicable rules and regulations governing drug use and to identify student-athletes who are improperly using drugs and assist them before they harm themselves or others.”

      The new policy’s penalties for street drugs are less severe, Coleman says, because committee members believe that treatment and counseling are a more appropriate response to this type of problem.

      “Given that street drugs are a general problem for students, and given that students generally are not subject to drug testing, we felt it was important first to give student-athletes a chance to correct any problem through counseling and treatment,” Coleman says. “A suspension is possible after a first positive, but only when necessary to treat the student and ensure his heath and safety and the safety of his/her teammates. After that, however, they are held to a higher standard than other students.”

      Duke Executive Vice President Tallman Trask III says stories last year that alleged steroid use by former members of Duke’s baseball team was one reason why the university decided to review its policy.

      “While we fully checked out these allegations and were satisfied that this was not a widespread problem, we nonetheless felt it was important to take this pro-active step in strengthening our drug policy,” Trask said. “We also felt Duke could, and should, take a leadership role in this area, and that it is in the best interest of our student-athletes’ health and well-being that we do so.”

      The committee, appointed last year by Duke President Richard H. Brodhead, included Coleman; Brad Berndt, assistant director of athletics/academic services; associate professor of environmental chemistry Prasad Kasibhatla; biology professor Kathleen Smith, who heads Duke’s Athletic Council; Dr. Alison Toth, director of the Duke Women’s Sports Medicine Program; and Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek.

      Coleman says that while the policy is tough on steroid use, the committee believed it was appropriate to give student-athletes who test positive for steroids a chance to “correct their error.”

      “We felt there should be no tolerance for steroids. They are taken for performance enhancement and therefore affect the integrity of the game and of the university,” Coleman says. “But we also thought it was important to keep in mind that we are an educational institution. We felt it was appropriate to give a student who tested positive for a steroid a second chance to learn from and recover from the error, if possible.

      “At Duke, a one-year suspension, with disclosure to parents, the coach and teammates, would be a significant setback. But if a student can overcome that and return to the team and perform with honor, we felt he or she deserved the chance. We did not feel it was appropriate to permanently ban such a student, with no chance to correct the error or learn from his or her mistake and no incentive to try.”

      Coleman says the committee looked at other drug testing programs both within and outside the Atlantic Coast Conference, “but the purpose of our review was not to tailor our program in light of their programs. We made recommendations to President Brodhead based upon what we thought was right for Duke.

      “I think our policy is appropriate in every respect for a top university like Duke,” Coleman says. “It represents a realistic balance between our role as a university and our commitment to keeping drugs out of athletic competition. The policy is tough, but fair. It is designed primarily to encourage compliance by making the penalty for noncompliance unacceptably damaging for any student who attends Duke.”



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