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Doping scandal centres on banned drug oxilofrine

An autograph of Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell is pictured inside the hotel where Powell stayed in Lignano Sabbiadoro, northern Italy on July 16, 2013. Mr. Powell and fellow sprinter Sherone Simpson have acknowledged that they had tested positive for a banned stimulant, and Mr. Powell’s agent blamed the test result on Chris Xuereb, an athletic therapist who had worked off and on for several years at the Institute of Sports Medicine and Wellness Centre in Toronto.

ALESSANDRO GAROFALO/REUTERS

A baffling aspect about the alleged doping scandal that has engulfed two Jamaican sprinters and their Canadian trainer is that it involved a banned drug that takes little effort to expose.

Oxilofrine, also known as methylsynephrine, is a stimulant that can be found in weight-loss supplements, said Christiane Ayotte, head of the INRS-Institut Armand-Frappier doping lab, a facility accredited by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

It has become more popular as an ingredient after another stimulant, ephedrine, which used to be commercially available, became a controlled substance, she said.

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In recent years, oxilofrine doping cases have been increasing, from about five cases annually to 15 to 20, Dr. Ayotte said.

"It's ridiculously easy to detect," she said, adding that she was baffled why athletes would use it.

The supplements can be ordered online and oxilofrine itself can also be purchased in bulk from China, she said. "People shouldn't think they'll find it in their breakfast cereal or in regular food. You really have to look for it."

There have been civil suits that allege that supplement manufacturers failed to properly list oxilofrine as an ingredient.

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About the Author
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More

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