Now that Chris Froome is facing disciplinary measures from cycling’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and anti-doping authorities after testing positive for Salbutamol, many are wondering just exactly what is this strictly controlled substance?
Salbutamol, also known as Albuterol and marketed as Ventolin among other names, is a medication that opens up the medium and large airways in the lungs. It is used to treat asthma including asthma attacks, exercise-induced bronchoconstriction and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It may also be used to treat high blood potassium levels. Salbutamol is usually used with an inhaler or nebulizer, but is also available as a pill and intravenous solution.
Salbutamol was first made in 1967 in Britain and became commercially available in the UK in 1969. It was approved for medical use in the United States in 1982.
Aside from treating respiratory problems however, there’s some suggestion that Salbutamol and other medications like it, can increase athletic performance. For this reason, Salbutamol once required “a declaration of Use in accordance with the International Standard for Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE)” under the 2010 World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) list of prohibited drugs.
However, this requirement was relaxed in 2011, wherein WADA allowed the use of Salbutamol and Salmeterol without the need for a TUE when taken by inhalation in accordance with the manufacturers’ recommended therapeutic regimen.
Abuse of the drug may be confirmed by detection of its presence in plasma or urine, typically exceeding 1000 µg/L. The window of detection for urine testing is on the order of just 24 hours, given the relatively short elimination half-life of the drug, estimated at between 5 and 6 hours following oral administration of 4 mg.
In Froome’s case, while a TUE wasn’t required, WADA limits its usage to just 1,000 ng/ml, for which the Tour de France champion tested as having twice that amount in his urine sample during stage 18 of this year’s Vuelta a Espana.
Under existing rules, the UCI and WADA are now required to question Froome and his team, and present a finding.
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