Wadler: Baseball needs to wake up to HGH

Updated: June 7, 2006, 11:59 PM ET
By Darren Rovell | ESPN.com

"Growth hormone made its name because it was a way of trying to accomplish the same things one tried to accomplish by taking steroids, except that you cannot find growth hormone using regular methodology in the urine. So it was a way of beating the steroid test."
-- Dr. Gary Wadler, National Public Radio, Aug. 26, 1999

Dr. Gary Wadler could see Jason Grimsley coming seven years ago.

Grimsley, a pitcher who was released Wednesday by the Arizona Diamondbacks, allegedly admitted to government investigators in April that he has used performance-enhancing drugs other than steroids, including human growth hormone (HGH), and went on to name a number of other players he believes used them, as well. A search warrant affidavit made public on Tuesday states that Grimsley told federal investigators that the only drug he has used since Major League Baseball began testing for steroids is human growth hormone.

Now, Wadler, an internist who is on the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) prohibited list and methods committee, says the best thing the league and its players can do to save face is to start testing for HGH as soon as possible.

"What Major League Baseball and the union does with their testing depends on public pressure," Wadler said Wednesday. "We live in a very squeaky-wheel society, where people don't think there's a problem until the wheel starts squeaking."

Wadler has been critical of baseball in the past for not adopting WADA's more stringent drug-testing standards, which are applied to the Olympic Games.

HGH, which has been used to help stunted children grow normally and to assist aging adults with hormone deficiency, is currently on baseball's banned substances list, but players are not being tested for it.

The only test currently available for HGH is a blood test that distinguishes growth hormone normally produced in the body from the type that is commercially available. In 2003, WADA officials concluded that HGH isn't detectable in a urine sample in a large enough proportion to make a test for it effective, but baseball's collective bargaining agreement calls for players to submit only to urine testing, not blood tests.

In a statement Wednesday afternoon, MLB executive vice president Rob Manfred said: "Major League Baseball now has the strongest steroid testing program in professional sports. Human growth hormone, however, is a problem for all sports because there is no universally accepted and validated test -- either blood or urine. No governing body in any sport has ever been able to discipline an athlete for the use of HGH."

Blood tests at the last two Olympic Games -- Athens in 2004 and Torino earlier this year -- yielded no positive results for HGH. But Wadler defends the testing.

"Saying the HGH blood test is not effective based on the fact that no one was caught is like saying that baseball didn't have a steroid problem because there were only 12 players that tested positive last season," Wadler said.

MLB is funding a three-year study by Dr. Donald Catlin at UCLA's Olympic testing lab to develop a urine test that will be reliable for detecting HGH.

Wadler, though, isn't confident that research will be fruitful, especially not at its current level of funding.

"I've sat on a WADA committee where the research budgets are in the millions," Wadler said. "Even if you are pursuing it, precluding the current blood test makes absolutely no sense to me."

Wadler contends there is no reason for the Major League Baseball Players Association to be against blood testing in the first place.

"A long time ago, people thought you would be more likely to get AIDS if you were dealing with needles, but that stuff belongs in the history books," Wadler said. "There are obviously sterile techniques, and we know how to not transmit diseases."

Darren Rovell is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn3.com.

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