Missing the finish line

Most pharmacists are unclear about the medication advice they should be providing to athletes

Australian pharmacists believe they need much more training before they can confidently advice athletes on the medications and supplements they can safely and legally use.

A survey completed by 135 pharmacists (62% community, 13% hospital, 25% ‘other’) found that the majority indicated that they were not confident in advising athletes on medication use.

The authors said the survey results “indicate that upskilling is required to enable pharmacists in Australia to provide accurate medication advice to professional athletes.”

Although most respondents believed that pharmacists had a role in the education of athletes to help avoid unintentional doping, only about a quarter indicated that they had sufficient knowledge to advise athletes, they found.

Around one‐half of the respondents could provide fully correct answers when asked to identify the World Anti‐Doping Agency (WADA) status of some commonly used drugs, said the authors, from the Schools of Pharmacy at the University of Tasmania and the University of Canberra.

WADA specifies substances that competitive sportspersons are not allowed to take. Some of these substances are contained in common medicines used in everyday medical practice and could be used by athletes by accident.

Only 29% of respondents said they had sufficient knowledge to treat and educate athletes on performance‐enhancing medications. 

However, when asked, “Which of the following drug(s) is banned in professional sport?”, the pharmacists generally responded accurately:

  • Anabolic steroids – 99% correct answer (99%)
  • Beta‐2 agonists – 69%
  • NSAIDs – 90%
  • Diuretics – 84%
  • PPIs – 98%
  • Stimulants (e.g., methylphenidate) – 96%
  • Paracetamol – 99%

Almost all respondents (94%) said pharmacists had a “role in educating athletes to avoid unintentional doping.”

“Pharmacists can potentially provide specialised advice to athletes because of their advanced knowledge in drugs and being health professionals who are easily accessible to the public,” the authors said.

“This is particularly important, given the new WADA specifications that prohibited drug groups will include all drugs that exhibit specific mechanisms of action (including future substances and substances not individually named).

However, this study indicates that upskilling is required to enable pharmacists to accurately and confidently provide medication‐related advice to athletes, with the aim of preventing unintentional doping”.

Upskilling could be achieved by specific accreditation or through workshops, short courses, and/or continuing professional development activities, they recommended.

The study was published in the journal Pharmacy.

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