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Updated 17 March 2016

Drug taken by Maria Sharapova is popular among elite athletes

Meldonium, the drug taken by tennis star Maria Sharapova, is widely used by athletes, according to new research.

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There is an alarmingly high prevalence of meldonium use by athletes in sport, reveals research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

Banned substance

Meldonium is reported to be used by athletes to potentially enhance personal performance and shorten the recovery period after physical activity.

The study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that up to 490 athletes may have been taking meldonium during Baku 2015 European Games.

Read: Your guide to legal sports supplements

Since the shock suspension of 28-year-old Maria Sharapova for using meldonium, or Mildronate, other athletes have also been caught using the banned substance, reported AFP.

Russian biathlete Eduard Latypov is the latest to be caught using the drug at an event in February. Swedish runner Abeba Aregawi also tested positive in February, while 2015 Tokyo marathon champion Endeshaw Negesse, Ukrainian biathletes Olga Abramova and Artem Tyschcenko and Russian ice dancer Ekaterina Bobrova have also been caught.

"This study highlights the widespread and inappropriate use and prescribing of this prescription drug in a generally healthy athlete population."
 
The research highlights that:

- 13 medallists or competition winners were taking meldonium
- 66 athletes tested positive for meldonium
- Meldonium was detected in athletes competing in 15 of the 21 sports in competition
- Meldonium use was significantly under-reported by athletes

"There was significant under-reporting of the use of this drug by athletes in most sports."

From 762 samples, only 23 (3.0%) of the 662 athletes tested self-reported taking the drug, compared to 66 (8.7%) athletes who actually tested positive for meldonium. 43 of the 66 (65%) athletes who tested positive for meldonium did not declare taking the drug in the last 7 days.

"This clearly indicates significantly more widespread use of this drug by athletes at the Games that was openly declared."

The research, which was carried out on behalf of the European Olympic Committees, contributed to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) taking the decision to ban the use of meldonium in competitive sport as of January 1.

Read: Your guide to illegal sports supplements

According to Drugs.com, Meldonium is manufactured by pharmaceutical company Grindeks in Latvia and used in the treatment of certain heart conditions such as angina, heart attacks, heart failure and for ischaemia, which is a lack of blood flow to parts of the body.

Four to six weeks

28-year-old Maria Sharapova, a five-time grand slam champion and the highest paid woman in sports, was suspended in March after she tested positive for the banned the day of her Australian Open quarter finals defeat to Serena Williams.

Sharapova has been taking the substance for 10 years after she frequently became sick, had irregular electrocardiogram results, a magnesium deficiency and a family history of diabetes, reported Reuters.

However, Grindeks told the Associated Press that four to six weeks was a common course. “Depending on the patient’s health condition, treatment course of meldonium preparations may vary from four to six weeks. Treatment course can be repeated twice or thrice a year,” the company said in an emailed statement.

“Only physicians can follow and evaluate patient’s health condition and state whether the patient should use meldonium for a longer period of time.”

Sources:

British Journal of Sports Medicine, Meldonium use by athletes at the Baku 2015 European Games. Adding data to Ms Maria Sharapova’s failed drug test case; http://blogs.bmj.com/bjsm/2016/03/08/meldonium-use-by-athletes-at-the-baku-2015-european-games-adding-data-to-ms-maria-sharapovas-failed-drug-test-case/

Sport24, 99 positive tests for meldonium since January 1; http://www.sport24.co.za/OtherSport/International/99-positive-tests-for-meldonium-since-january-1-20160312

Reuters, Experts perplexed over why Sharapova was taking banned heart drug; http://www.reuters.com/article/us-tennis-sharapova-drug-idUSKCN0WB1GK

Drugs.com; http://www.drugs.com/international/meldonium.html

Grindex.lv; http://www.grindeks.lv/en/products/prescription-medicine/grindeks-brand-products/mildronate

AccessWDUN, The drug at the center of Maria Sharapova's doping case was regularly given to Soviet troops in the 1980s to boost their stamina while fighting in Afghanistan; http://accesswdun.com/article/2016/3/375741

Read more:

Josta Dladla pleads guilty to doping charge

Outrage over doping in professional sport

WADA calls for wider efforts to tackle sports doping 

 
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