Maria Sharapova's Drug Use 'Not Normal'

Publish Date
Wednesday, 9 March 2016, 7:33AM
Sharapova plays a forehand at the Australian Open. Photo / Getty Images

Sharapova plays a forehand at the Australian Open. Photo / Getty Images

The drug at the centre of Maria Sharapova's doping case, regularly given to Soviet troops in the 1980s to boost their stamina while fighting in Afghanistan, is normally prescribed for medical use for periods of four to six weeks.

Sharapova faces possible sanctions after testing positive for meldonium, a drug the Russian tennis star said she said she had been using for 10 years for various medical issues.

The Latvian company that manufactures meldonium said the normal course of treatment is much shorter.

"Depending on the patient's health condition, treatment course of meldonium preparations may vary from four to six weeks," Grindeks said in an emailed statement Tuesday to The Associated Press. "Treatment course can be repeated twice or thrice a year. Only physicians can follow and evaluate patient's health condition and state whether the patient should use meldonium for a longer period of time."

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, said Monday she failed a doping test at the Australian Open in January for meldonium, which became a banned substance under the World Anti-Doping Agency code this year.

Meldonium is a heart medicine which improves blood flow and is little-known in the U.S., but it was once common in the Soviet military.

The drug's inventor, Ivars Kalvins, told Latvian newspaper Diena in a 2009 interview that meldonium was given to soldiers during the 1980s, when Soviet forces were fighting in Afghanistan.

"High altitudes. Oxygen deprivation. If they have to run 20 kilometers with all the gear, at the end they would get ischemia (a blood circulation condition)," Kalvins was quoted as saying.

"They were all given meldonium. They themselves were not aware they were using it. No one was being asked (if they agree to it) back then."

Kalvins said meldonium was "not doping," adding that it "allows you to withstand more physical pressure, but the body still spends its spare reserves."

Sharapova said yesterday she had taken meldonium for a decade following various health problems including regular sicknesses, early signs of diabetes and "irregular" results from echocardiography exams.

"I was first given the substance back in 2006. I had several health issues going on at the time," she said. Sharapova didn't specify whether she had used it constantly since then.

Meldonium was banned because it aids oxygen uptake and endurance, and several athletes in various international sports have already been caught using it since it was banned on Jan. 1.

While meldonium was put on the banned list then, the decision to ban it had been announced by WADA and sports organizations as early as September 2015. Sharapova said she received an email with information on the changes in December, but did not read the information at the time.

German anti-doping expert Mario Thevis, who helped to develop the test for meldonium, told the AP that testing was reliable despite meldonium's recent addition to the WADA banned list.

"There is a potential of the substance to enhance performance and it has been described as a means to facilitate recovery and to enhance physical as well as mental workload capabilities," Thevis, a professor at the anti-doping laboratory in Cologne, Germany, said in a telephone interview. "It can be tested as reliably as any other doping agent."

NZ Herald/AP