Former Commission Doctor Says Boxing Blood Tests Feasible
Goodman spoke to FanHouse concerning her take on the ongoing Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao drug-testing controversy as well as her view on the frequency of use and the potential effects of performance-enhancing drugs in boxing and other sports.
FanHouse: Do you believe that it would be feasible or too costly for random blood-testing to be implemented by the Nevada State Athletic Commission?
Margaret Goodman: This is what I will tell you about MRI testing. When we wanted to do MRI testing, one of the main arguments in order to get us to not do it was the cost. What was going to be the cost.
I believe that if the athletic commission were to approach the World Anti-Doping Agency, or, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, I'm sure that there is a way that the cost could be reduced, or there could be some kind of arrangement made even with the local laboratories.
Do this under a research project, get funding. This is not that complicated. When we did MRI studies, the MRI studies were $1,500 apiece, and we got the price down to $425. That's still a lot of money to a kid who is earning $100 a round. But the point is that with this drug-testing, I'm sure there's ways to negotiate it so that it wouldn't be nearly as costly.
You don't want to just work with yourself, you want to work outside of yourself with other experts. As much expertise as the Nevada Commission's Medical Advisory Board has, they're not experts in drug-testing.
I'm sure that the USADA would love to invite them to come and participate in a symposium and to help the Nevada Commission to re-design their drug-testing protocol and programs.
But if I would be a part of the commission at this time, it would be an unreasonable request for the commission to do unless this was something contractually done by the two fighters [Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao]. Neither fighter has ever tested positive for anything before.
So there's no reason to pick this particular fight unless the fighters' camps want it done, and then, the commission should help them to facilitate it -- which I'm sure that the commission would do.
FH: Boxing uses urinalysis to test fighters for illegal drugs, but when did the sport initially begin testing specifically for steroids?
Goodman: That was proposed by [Then-commissioner] Flip Homansky at the time, and I think that it started in 2001 as a pilot program. There was a time where fighters were being educated. So it was in 2001 that the individuals were notified, and then in 2002 the testing was actually begun more uniformly.
What we did in that instance was that we sent out letters to everyone as an announcement that this was a procedure that was going to be started. This was the same thing that we did with MRI testing.
At the time, it was just that it was being discovered and becoming common knowledge that a lot of different sports were using performance enhancing drugs, especially anabolic steroids.
It seemed like every athlete wanted to have an edge. Not only was the Olympics testing for them, but cycling was becoming a big issue and steroid use was becoming more and more of a problem in the news. We were also hearing about them being used in college sports, and they were becoming more common among high school athletes.
So it was really being considered insufficient for the Nevada Commission to just be testing for drugs of abuse, like stimulants, and narcotics, which, at the time, were the main drug screens that were being conducted. It was only natural to try and include those for anabolic steroids.
FH: Was that an easy transition?
Goodman (pictured right, working on Wladimir Klitschko): The problem, initially, was the logistics. To check for anabolic steroids and masking agents, it takes a lot of urine. What's the big deal? Typically, with athletes in boxing, after a fight, that's when the drug tests were done in Nevada.
The athletes were pretty dehydrated, so it was hard to get them to urinate a sufficient amount to have enough for the steroid tests. So, truthfully, when we first started doing that, not everyone that was being drug-tested was being tested for anabolic steroids.
In other words, those were kind of being randomly done. Every championship fight, both athletes were checked for the typical Nevada drug panel. And initially when steroid-testing was implemented, not every single championship fight was drug-tested for anabolic steroids.
And that was just because it was too difficult for the individuals collecting the specimens -- which was the inspectors -- and also because we weren't always getting enough urine. So at the time, we tried to do the steroid tests before the fight and do the other drug-testing after the fight so that we would have enough for the collection.
Otherwise, there was an insufficient amount of specimens and the tests were not being properly conducted. The problem had been that not every single fighter that comes to the state of Nevada was tested. And we're only talking about Nevada because it's different in every jurisdiction where most jurisdictions don't do any drug-testing.
California has adopted a more general program, as has I think, New Jersey, and I'm not sure what's done in New York. In California, a couple of years ago, they started testing every one in every card.
They would test every fighter on a particular card and they were getting a lot more positive drug-tests than anyone because they were testing more fighters. Obviously, the percentages go up the more fighters you test.
What was also happening in Nevada is that there were occasional random tests. So, for example, if there wasn't a championship fight on the card, they would pick one athlete randomly and check that person.
FH: Did you feel that the testing was successful?
Goodman: The problem is that you know that fighters are smart, and the people that handle them are smart. Not to say that there are a lot of cheaters out there. Now, we're just talking about anabolic steroids.
But those that were using, often the drugs would be out of their system so that when there was a fighter that was caught, it wasn't necessarily because the testing was so fabulous, and that it's so pervasive, and we're doing the right drug-testing, etc., but because somebody didn't stop using the drugs in time.
FH: What do you mean they stopped using the drug in time?
Goodman: There are other performance enhancing drugs that are not being tested for and that's the problem currently. But as far as anabolic steroids, they are used in either a 'Stacking' form, or a 'Pyramiding' form. In other words, usually if a fighter is caught, they usually have more than one drug in their system -- that's typical.
I've seen that in Nevada, I've seen that in California, and I've seen that in other states. To accomplish what an athlete wants to accomplish with the use of anabolic steroids, you have to take different ones. And you take them at different times during your training.
So, you might start with one drug, and then as your training goes on, maybe a month or two in advance you start adding another drug in. And, later on, you take that first drug off. So there may be three or four anabolic drugs that an individual is using -- maybe more in some cases, perhaps less in others.
But depending on what they want to accomplish with those particular drugs -- and each one has a specific profile of what it can help you with -- there are tons of these things. Some people want to build on muscle, some people just want to be able to recover from injury so that they can train more.
It just depends on what the individual wants. So the drugs are done in a 'Stacking' form, or in a 'Pyramiding' form, where you build and build and build on the drugs. And then, at some point, in the middle of your training, you're maybe on four drugs and then you start to drop them off.
FH: So if a boxer were to drop off of them, will those drugs still have that desired effect when he fights?
Goodman: Yes. But they may not be detected in your system. And that's because every particular drug -- whether it's over the counter, a pfescription drug, or an illegal drug -- has a certain half-life. And that refers to how long the drug is really effective in your system.
Depending on the half-life or the time that the drug stays in your system, there's another time that applies to when it can be detected on a drug screen.
FH: Do you have any example of drugs that might not be detectable after being off of it for a while?
Goodman: Yes. One of those drugs would be Winstrol, the drug that Fernando Vargas tested positive for. That one is a readily-used anabolic steroid.
As a matter of fact, when we first started looking at that one, which is obviously included in the drug screen, it was one of the most commonly-used anabolic steroids in high school kids who wanted to lose weight. It was also one of the most commonly used among high school girls who wanted to lose weight but to be cut -- to be a little bit muscular.
FH: So is that a weight-loss drug?
Goodman: It's not a weight-loss drug, it's an anabolic steroid that helps build strength and help you look more cut, but which will not add weight on. Some of the anabolic steroids have estrogen in them, which is a female hormone that will put weight on.
There is one that puts weight on and adds strength called Deca-Durabolin. But Deca was one of the most commonly-used ones for weightlifters, wrestling guys -- like WWE-type guys -- because that would put on big muscle mass.
FH: Would you think that a boxer would benefit from this?
Goodman: Not that particular type. We've seen those more in the mixed martial artists. And this is the other bag of worms: If you start doing more widespread and pervasive drug-testing as far as performance enhancing drugs, you've got to start thinking about who is going to turn up positive.
I would say that, statistically, at least in the state of California, they were catching a lot more mixed martial artists for their drug-testing than they were boxers as far as anabolic steroids are concerned.
The most important thing to understand is that anabolic steroids, for a boxer, are not typically used for muscle. They're used to help them train harder, more often and to help them recover from injury. That's the use of an anabolic steroid in a fighter. But this is going to affect both sports if the drug-testing is advanced and expanded.
FH: Have you seen any evidence of that?
Goodman: Oh yeah. oh yeah. I think that it's widespread. But I think that it's also widespread with other drugs now, and I think that what's happening is not that people are going away from anabolic steroids, but that they're going to other drugs in combination so that we're not detecting anabolic steroids and these other drugs.
Because that's what they're using as well and those are being tested for.
FH: Was blood-testing ever considered for implementation by the Nevada Commission during your tenure?
Goodman: Blood-testing, number one, it's not convenient. You would have to have a doctor or a certified technician or a nurse draw the blood. There is more risk of infection, you have to worry about handling it the correct way. So it would take a lot more to draw blood, but for most things, urine tests are adequate.
If you're going to be checking for drugs of abuse like narcotics, pain drugs and stimulants, then urine tests are just as good. And you can test for anabolic steroids in urine tests, which are good too. That's not so much the problem.
But if you want to check for everything that you need to check for, given the current situation of drugs that are being abused by athletes to enhance their performances, then you should check for everything that you can check for, which does include things that can only be checked in the blood.
You can look back at Shane Mosley's decision over Oscar De La Hoya. During that time, he was using EPO (erythropoietin). EPO, we talked about that when I was there. But at the time, there wasn't a great way to check for it, and the test was very costly.
But there are other ways that athletes can blood-dope besides EPO. Athletes can do auto-transfusions, which is re-transfusing their own blood. You take it out maybe a month or two before a contest, and then you go train, and then, close to the contest time, you re-infuse that blood, and that will increase your blood count with your own blood.
You could test for blood-doping by repeatedly checking somebody's blood count or saying that somebody can't compete if their blood count is above a certain amount -- and that's what they do in cycling, and I think that's what they do in the Olympics.
If you have too high of a blood count, you're not allowed to compete until your blood count comes back down. Well, you say, 'What's the big deal about that, if you can do it naturally?' People can train at high altitudes and get their blood count up.
The reason why EPO is such a problem is that it can cause heart attack or stroke. It's not just about whether someone is cheating, there are other risks.
FH: So there are lots of drugs that a fighter can take prior to competing that would be out of his systemp prior to the match?
Goodman: There are many anabolic steroids that will do the same thing, it's just a question of when you stop them. How would somebody know all of this? The average person can go on the internet and type in 'half-life, anabolic steroids,' and they can get plenty of information as to how long these things stay in your system.
And there are individuals out there who will design a program. They'll ask, 'When is your competition,' and they'll design a program to make sure that they'll get the benefits from the drugs, but the drugs won't be in their system when they're drug-tested.
Obviously, the BALCO situation brought everything to a head. But there are many, many, many individuals out there who are physicians, who are chemists, who are working with athletes and designing special programs of what they need to take and when, when they need to stop it. And it's a very expensive process.
But the average Joe can go on the internet and pull up a lot of this stuff too. There are books and journals and things like that that you can get that will lay it out for you on how to do it.