NJ AC disagrees with ARP call for TRT ban


Association of Ringside Physicians recently released a consensus statement calling for the phasing out of Therapeutic Use Exemptions for Testosterone Replacement Therapy.

However, two of the most respected individuals in the sport, New Jersey State Athletic Commission Counsel Nick Lembo and NJSACB Medical Chief for Mixed Martial Arts and Muay Thai Dr. Sherry Wulkan take issue with a wholesale ban.

"We are testing the hell out of those who voluntarily come forward seeking TUE's for TRT, but akin to a 'don't ask, don't tell' policy, we athletic commissions aren't testing enough of those who are not coming forward," explained Lembo, to BloodyElbow. "The focus by the ARP should be on improving drug testing parameters for those who are not forthcoming and open."

Dr. Wulkan further made that case against a wholesale ban.

In my opinion, the determination as to whether athletes requiring replacement therapy should be allowed to compete is an administrative decision for the athletic Commissioners and Executive Directors.

The determination as to whether or not a patient currently requires a given therapeutic intervention is a medical decision. It is incumbent upon physicians to treat patients, (provided the appropriate work-up and documentation has been done), to help assure their best quality of life.

The ABC medical committee, which I serve as Co-Chair with Dr.Wayne Lee, in 2011, published strict requirements to determine whether, in fact, a TUE for TRT should be granted. We had already established guidelines which fully addressed the concerns now raised in the ARP's press release. 'Steroid use' and 'unmerited testosterone' have never been supported or encouraged by any combat sports physician or athletic commission of which I am aware. However, some athletic commissions have been lax in their drug testing for PEDs for all athletes.

In New Jersey, it is a very onerous procedure to be considered for the grant of a TUE for TRT.

The procedures in New Jersey, are as follows:

A letter from a Board Certified Endocrinologist stating that the athlete stopped all hormone replacement therapy for a minimum of 8 weeks prior to repeat testing. The letter should include copies of medical records that address the following issues:
•If the athlete has been on testosterone (T) therapy already, then the combatant should cease using testosterone therapy for at least two months, preferably three, before measuring baseline T;
•Measurements must be made using an accurate method such as calculated free testosterone by equilibrium dialysis;
•Results should demonstrate T levels consistently below the low normal value for the reference laboratory;
•The obtained values must be interpreted by a Board Certified Endocrinologist in this case;
•Provide LH and FSH values measured at the same time as T above. In this case, the obtained values must be interpreted by an endocrinologist.
•Provide results from stimulation of the gonadal axis by hCG as applicable;
•Provide confirmation that the athlete does not have any short term illness or other condition that would influence testosterone production at the time of evaluation, and that the athlete is NOT on any medication that may affect T levels such as narcotics or corticosteroids, or androgen replacement therapy.
•Provide a detailed treatment plan including how systemic T levels will be monitored to ensure maintenance of therapeutic levels. The dosage must be decided by an endocrinologist in this case. The intervals between assessments of therapeutic maintenance levels must be so stated and the results of at least two therapeutic levels submitted by an endocrinologist in this case.
•The athlete is subject to at least three separate drug tests prior and immediately thereafter the fight date, the timing and type of which is to be determined by this agency. Samples of blood, urine and/or hair may be taken one month, two weeks, and immediately post competition in an attempt to ensure competitive equity.

Without a Commission's adherence to the above ABC medical committee and NJSACB adopted procedures and requirements, the ARP's position may seem the easier and more rudimentary solution for all involved.

The glaring and overlooked concern regardless of the ABC medical committee TUE requirements or the ARP's recommended ban, is the fact that the large majority of athletes using performance enhancing drugs are not, in fact, subject to ANY testing because measurements of PED are minimal or non-existent in many jurisdictions.

Perhaps it might have been more prudent for the ARP to endorse the concept of regular and stringent drug testing for PED's via hair, blood and urine by all athletic commissions.

The ARP may have placed the cart before the horse by cracking down on TUE applicants who freely and voluntarily come forward seeking medical clearance at a time when commissions are still granting TUEs, while ignoring the fact that those who are not forthcoming are either not tested or are tested in a fashion that is not designed to catch PED usage, or testing that it fraught with obvious and glaring weaknesses.

While it is clear that the request/need for TUEs for TRT is multitudes higher than in the general age-matched cohort, several considerations must be taken into account. First, we must bear in mind that in certain cases, requests from athletes with, as examples, primary hypogonadnism, (albeit rare), certain pituitary disorders, transgender athletes, and testicular loss from IED explosions, need be entertained. 2. A TUE policy should be consistent and equal across a wide group of substances and medicines. TUE's are also utilized for substances other than testosterone and steroids, for conditions such as attention deficit and asthma.

Most notably, we must bear in mind that the blanket elimination of TUEs alone will not mean that PED usage and abuse will be reduced in these combat sports.

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tags: Regulation   PED   NJ   New Jersey   Nick Lembo   


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Recent Comments »

Tad Ghostal site profile image  

2/1/14 5:50 PM by Tad Ghostal

My understanding is that the WADA criteria are not applied to testing at all, unless the fighter requests it e.g. for a TUE or like GSP and VADA.I suppose the commissions create an even playing field by basically allowing unmitigated drug use through such inefficient testing.Although, no matter how strict the testing, I assume there will always be new drugs and ways of enhancing performance and corrupt doctors. Which is why I'm in favour of TUEs, at least they're admitting it and being tested to stay within 'normal' levels. That seems a lot better than 'piss in a cup on a prearranged date'.

gilbertfan site profile image  

2/1/14 9:42 AM by gilbertfan

TUEs need to meet the three wada criteria. I feel the criteria are not applied rigorously and consistently. As for granting them to collect data, the commissions are in place to protect fighter safety and create an even playing field not conduct research experiments on performance.

Tad Ghostal site profile image  

1/31/14 3:39 PM by Tad Ghostal

gilbertfan - why do you think TUEs should be rarer, considering what Nick Lembo said about the "don't ask, don't tell" policy of commissions? Wouldn't it be better to give TUEs freely, as most off-the-record, rough estimates of the percentage of fighters using PEDs are so high?The way you wrote; "...health problems...without treatment is in itself not well supported by current data", makes me assume that there is not much data, wouldn't this be a good chance to gather lots more?

SC MMA MD site profile image  

1/31/14 3:23 PM by SC MMA MD

Great post. As a ringside physician in SC, I agree. There are cases where TRT is likely appropriate, but there needs to be a strict standard as to who qualifies to use TRT, and why they can qualify

hackett site profile image  

1/31/14 2:51 PM by hackett

Thank you for a thoughtful and reasonable post. I expect it to be mostly ignored, but some of us appreciate it anyway.

ErikMagraken site profile image  

1/30/14 11:20 PM by ErikMagraken

Well said Doctor.

teamquestnorth site profile image  

1/30/14 10:49 PM by teamquestnorth

Testicular loss from IED explosions sounds painful.

gilbertfan site profile image  

1/30/14 10:44 PM by gilbertfan

As a ringside physician and medical advisor to the Tennessee commission I have to emphasize that we have lost focus on the more pertinent issue which is the actual criteria for a TUE. I think Dr. Wulkan and Lee's ideas are well constructed but the underlying premise is what the ARP is having an issue with and that is the actual need. The WADA criteria for TUE are:•The athlete would experience significant health problems without taking the prohibited substance or method•The therapeutic use of the substance would not produce significant enhancement of performance, and•There is no reasonable therapeutic alternative to the use of the otherwise prohibited substance or method.As a physician who has both overseen TUEs as a commissioner and prescribed TRT to iatrogenic opiate induced hypoglnadal patients in my own chronic pain practice, I truly have a hard time accepting that many of these TUEs meet the 3 WADA criteria. So again all these application processes are great but the basic premise that most of these athletes would suffer significant health problems during their mma careers without treatment is in itself not well supported by current data. Nor is it supported by the anecdotal performance enhancement I have witnessed in my own hypogonadal patients who have responded dramatically to modest conservative TRT. I have been stating TUEs need to become much rarer. Dr. Catlin's statement about 2 TUEs being granted in IOC history and one was to an athlete without testicles needs consideration. The standard needs to be raised and most TUEs will not likely meet the criteria. Otherwise you can have a terrific application and monitoring process but the concept as a whole is botched which then leads to abuse and drags our great sport down. Neal Frauwirth, MD

hackett site profile image  

1/30/14 5:59 PM by hackett

"Why bother focusing on the small case of ppl who're being heavily tested when the vast majority are ignored. It's exactly Weidman's point on Belfort, if he doesn't request a TUE, he'll just cycle on and off to easily avoid the pathetic testing going on." The difference is that a commission is offering their approval on an athlete who is asking for synthetic testosterone, which has always been labelled an anabolic steroid.   Now, we've got a guy who failed past drug testing asking for permission. He didn't lose his testicles to an IED. If he's struggling to produce testosterone now, it's probably because of that previous steroid use. Seems most of these cases have that in the background -- maybe age, a history of concussions, or even dehydration (from cutting weight) factoring in. None of these should be a golden ticket to use steroids.   No one is denying the testing can be improved. So, let's improve testing.   Logic, just not in New Jersey...

EckY site profile image  

1/30/14 5:31 PM by EckY

They should just make it you cant fight MMA unless you are on TRT.