What's The Deal With Dexamethasone? Isn't It A Common Drug?

We explore the use and the purpose of the drug dexamethasone and why the substance is banned in sports in this FAQ below.

Recently, badminton's world number one Datuk Lee Chong Wei tested positive for dexamethasone, a banned substance. If found guilty, he could face a two-year ban from the sport.

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Many have come up with multiple theories as to why he had drugs in his body. Razif Sidek, in an interview with Kosmo! said that the national shuttler hired a doctor to administer drugs to him. Is dexamethasone that hard to find? Let's find out more about the drug...

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"What is dexamethasone?"

Firstly, dexamethasone is listed as one of the most important medications under the World Health Organisation (WHO). It is actually an anti-inflammatory product that treats numerous sicknesses such as asthma to even cancer.

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The drug Dexamethasone is listed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as one of the most important medications needed in a basic health system.

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Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid that prevents the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation. Dexamethasone is used to treat many different inflammatory conditions such as allergic disorders, skin conditions, ulcerative colitis, arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, or breathing disorders. (Georgetown Pharmacy)

Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid that prevents the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation. Dexamethasone is used to treat many different inflammatory conditions such as allergic disorders, skin conditions, ulcerative colitis, arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, or breathing disorders.

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In Lee Chong Wei's case, he was given the drug to help speed up his recovery on the injury he sustained before the World Championships

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Dexamethasone is not a performance-enhancing drug but a type of steroid medication with anti-inflammatory effects that is usually used to aid an athlete’s rehabilitation. Khairy said a thorough investigation on the shuttler’s recent medical history revealed that dexamethasone was administered into his body on July 17 to treat his injury.

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"If dexamethasone is helpful, why is it banned then? Is it performance enhancing?"

The drugs are only banned during a competition. This is because it has the potential to enhance sport performances especially to aid athletes in high altitudes. However, the drug is permissible during off season or out of competition.

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However, it is a banned substance on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (Wada) list of prohibited substances. According to Wada, a substance or method can make it to its list if it meets any two of the three criteria: That it has the potential to enhance or enhances sport performance; that it represents an actual or potential health risk to the athlete; that it violates the spirit of sport.

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Dexamethasone is in the world anti-doping agency list of prohibited items only during competition and not BEFORE competition, because it is misused by certain long distance athletes like cyclists and marathon runners when they are competing in high altitudes. This is because dexamethasone can be used to treat/prevent mountain sickness, and gives the athlete a competitive edge of the rest of the competition. Lee Chong Wei's competition was held in Copenhagen Denmark, a country ranked 225 in the "List of countries by highest point". Therefore, taking dexamethasone will hardly be of any benefit in terms of cheating. (GeorgeTown Pharmacy)

Dexamethasone comes under the category of Glucocorticoids and is banned in competition only. That means if it were detected in the off season or before a competition, it would not be considered unlawful. According to Tan Sri Dr Mani Jegathesan, the chairman of the Medical and Anti-doping Committee of the Olympic Council of Asia, the substance is considered to affect performances indirectly.

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In the case of Lee Chong Wei, the drug was given during his off season leading up to the competition. The drug normally metabolises within 10 to two weeks but traces of the drug was detected in Chong Wei after a month.

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Lee Chong Wei’s positive dope test can’t be compared to the cases of Ben Johnson or Lance Armstrong as the substance found in the shuttler’s urine sample was a medical steroid to aid athletes' rehabilitation said Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin.

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“Once administered into an athlete’s body, dexamethasone should metabolize within 10 to two weeks. It should not be in the system for more than a month. “We are checking the sample again (in Barcelona). If we find traces of dexamethasone, that will confirm for some freak reason the slow metabolism process of the substance in the athlete’s body.

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“It will give us some clue on how it can be in his system for so long (from July 17-Aug 30). It will help us to establish a point that will help us in the mitigating process,” said Khairy. He added that various independent tests were also carried out by the National Sports Institute (NSI). “The NSI have also conducted tests on the athlete’s supplements and drinks, his bird’s nest consumption and even his hair gel. We want to be as thorough as possible,” said Khairy.

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"Traces remain in the body for 10 days but in this case, we are not sure why it lasted longer than that," he told reporters after attending the launching of the GeNexter Carnival 2014 in Putrajaya, Sunday. Chong Wei had reportedly suffered a thigh injury and sought stem cell treatment in July.

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"Is the drug easy to obtain?"

There are conflicting answers regarding to this question. A Facebook posting that is now being shared widely states that the drug is easily obtainable from pharmacies from RM2 onwards.

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On the other hand, a statement from Lee Chong Wei himself said that one cannot buy this substance from the counter at any pharmacy. "It has to be prescribed by a doctor".

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"One cannot even buy this banned substance from the counter at any pharmacy. It has to be prescribed by a doctor. That is why when I was asked whether I wanted to open up sample B, I did not hesitate at all." He said it was a trying time for him emotionally. "My wife knows how affected I was. I was hoping that it was all just a bad dream. I was so stressed that I had to leave the country at one point."

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"I have worked hard all my life and I do not take shortcuts. I have been a World No.1 player for so long and have gone through over 100 doping tests. I know the danger of drugs. I do not even drink when I go out with friends - to be very sure of what I consume. I am careful. I strongly believe that this is not my fault."

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What do you think of the ban? Is Lee Chong Wei being punished harshly or is the ban justifiable? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter.

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