A Forensic Approach to the Fight against Doping
Traditionally, the fight against doping is based on the detection of a prohibited substance in a bodily fluid of an athlete. The objective of the present project is to create a network of partners from a variety of horizons to collect evidence of a different nature and thus change the current paradigm. The first step in this direction is the biological passport that introduces indirect markers of doping. A further development is the integration of non-analytical data as evidence.
The detection of a prohibited substance in the blood or the urine of an athlete is fundamental in the fight against doping. At the same time, the efficiency of this approach is often questionable. It is rare in forensic sciences to base one’s opinion on a single finding even if it provides strong evidence, such as in case of DNA-based identification. Instead, the forensic scientist usually seeks to collect a bundle of facts that may have very different origins. Thus, in the fight against doping, disciplinary action is usually initiated only if the same conclusion is supported by different findings such as abnormal values for an indirect marker, evidence from police investigations, witness accounts, customs seizure, activities within a recognized doping ring, or discovery of injection paraphernalia. The amount of doping substances seized today is very significant: at least 5 tons of anabolic steroids, 0.5 ton of testosterone, 100,000 vials of EPO, 100,000 vials of growth hormone and 9 million doses of other types of prohibited substances. At the same time, only a fraction of these findings is used to fight against doping.
The paradigm shift from a single incriminating fact (detection of a prohibited substance) to multiple evidence that includes non-analytical findings can only occur progressively. The creation of the Athlete Biological Passport is the first step in this direction. This document contains information that improves the decision making process when assessing indirect doping markers. Of particular importance is the fact that the methods for evaluating the prevalence of doping will be based on clinical studies. Instead of focusing exclusively on the anti-doping test, the entire doping chain will be assessed including the production of the prohibited substance, its distribution channels and acquisition by the athlete. The objective is to determine which elements can be integrated in a global approach to fight against doping. This will require a collaborative effort that includes counter-narcotics police, customs and drug regulatory authorities (such as Swissmedic in Switzerland). The outcome will be a new methodology that takes into account all relevant evidence and that relies on methods used to assess scientific evidence, including Bayesian analyses.