A pair of experts from the Kansas City-based National Center for Drug-Free Sport presented new research about nutritional supplements to a large crowd at Buena Vista University on Wednesday night, lending their insight on a subject which has become nationally known in recent years due to substances such as creatine and androstenedione.
Frank Uryasz, president of the National Center for Drug-Free Sport and Rachel Olander, head of the Dietary Supplement Resource Exchange Center at the National Center, talked about nutritional supplements, banned substances and the negative side effects these drugs pose to the health of athletes.
The university used part of a $5,000 grant to bring the experts to Storm Lake for two days, and Marge Willadsen, head softball coach and coordinator of NCAA compliance at BVU, said the school invited them because it felt many students were taking nutritional supplements without receiving adequate information about the substances.
"We wanted to attempt to expose some of the myths that surround the issue of supplements," Willadsen said. "We feel it's a very important issue here at Buena Vista, and we want these students to receive the most accurate information possible."
Uryasz, who began the NCAA drug-testing program in 1986 and has served on the U.S. Anti-Doping Committee, said his biggest goal was to give students the facts about the different supplements and let them know the effects of each drug.
"We're doing this for three reasons," Uryasz said. "First and foremost, we want to protect the health of the athletes. Second, we want to make sure there is equitable competition. We don't want sports to become a war of pharmacists. Third, we want to ensure the integrity of competition. We don't want people in the stands wondering if the athletes are using drugs."
Olander also stressed safety issues, especially with many athletes feeling they are immune from danger because they are taking "natural" supplements.
"We hear the word 'natural' from these companies, but that doesn't equal 'safe' at all," Olander said. "Things like cocaine and snake venom are perfectly natural, but they're not safe. The same thing is true with many of these different supplements."
The two presented research from the June 2001 edition of the NCAA Study of Substance Use Habits of College Student-Athletes, which showed some surprising figures.
While some may feel substance abuse is more prevalent among athletes on larger campuses, Uryasz said the school's size does not play a role in the amount of substance abuse a particular institution may have.
The 2001 NCAA study found that Division III schools reported the highest rates of social drug use of all three divisions, with the exception of cocaine use, which was slightly higher in Division I.
For example, nearly 32 percent of Division III student-athletes reported using marijuana at one point, compared to 25.3 percent of Division I and 24.1 percent of Division II athletes.
"Sport is sport, and it doesn't matter whether we're talking about professional athletics or the weekend athlete," Uryasz said. "The level doesn't matter one bit. There are going to be people who are going to try to take these substances."
Uryasz said he and Olander are also trying to spread their information to parents, who may be completely uninformed about these supplements.
"I find most parents don't understand these products are dangerous," Uryasz said. "A lot of them just think these things are completely harmless, which is untrue. These supplements can be very dangerous if you mix them with strenuous exercise. Parents need to know that and be aware of that."
Uryasz said drugs will probably always hover around the athletic scene, but said he hopes he and Olander can help cut the use of these supplements by athletes of all ages one day.
"Athletes have tried to gain a competitive edge for centuries, and they're going to keep on trying to do that," Uryasz said. "The products they use might change, but the motivation doesn't change at all. They're simply trying to use something that will help them gain an edge on competition, and we're trying to discourage them from doing that as best we can."
‰ The complete 2001 NCAA drug report can be seen at www.drugfreesport.com.