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New drug test policy set for 'U' athletes

April 25, 2003

Under new athletics department drug testing policies, MSU physicians will be able to take samples of a student-athlete's hair, saliva, blood and other bodily fluids next year.

Previously, only an athlete's urine could be screened for drugs. But an advisory committee of the Athletic Council added several stipulations to the department's drug testing policy earlier this month.

The move was made to bolster an "already strong" set of rules, said Athletics Director Ron Mason.

"We just looked for things that could be brought up to speed," Mason said. "They're not big changes."

The new policies will take effect at the start of the 2003-04 academic year, but athletes have already been given copies of the changes so they know what to expect when they return in the fall.

In addition to broadening the scope of materials that can be sampled, the new policy also spells out to student-athletes several long-standing department policies.

For one, athletes who believe they have a substance-abuse problem can seek help from MSU medical personnel without the fear of getting penalized.

The option cannot be utilized by an athlete after he or she has been notified of an impending drug test. Rather, its intent is to assist players who voluntarily admit they have a problem and desire counseling.

"We've been doing it for years," said Jeff Monroe, MSU's head athletic trainer, who is a member of the advisory council. "It's just never been written down for the student-athlete. Now they can look it up and see it.

"This is for first-time offenders. It's not an escape clause - it's purely to help yourself."

Also on the books for the first time is a provision allowing doctors to hold athletes out of play if drug or alcohol use has put them at risk for an injury.

Monroe said medical personnel have always had the final say as to whether an injured athlete can play. The new wording just makes it official that a doctor can hold out someone impaired by substance abuse.

"Even if there are no required sanctions for the situation, it allows a physician to make a decision that's in the best interest of the individual," Monroe said. "Even on a first use, if your safety is at risk, you can be put into mandatory counseling."

But Mason said, by far, the biggest change to the policy is the allowing of hair and other samples to be taken.

Hair testing gives a longer glimpse into an individual's history of substance use. Urine can be free of evidence in several days, whereas hair stores data for up to three months.

Ultimately, it will be the physician's call as to what sample will be taken from the athlete.

"It's something other schools have been doing, and it's been working," Mason said. "It's easier and can be more conclusive."

Monroe wouldn't say whether the changes to the drug policy had anything to do with then-junior quarterback Jeff Smoker's highly publicized substance-abuse problems last semester.

Paul Harker, a senior guard on the MSU football team, said the Spartans reviewed the changes during a team meeting on Monday and everyone seemed to be fine with them.

"We know that we're here to play football, be athletes and be in the best shape we can be," Harker said. "Drugs have no place here, and I don't think anyone on the team disagrees with that.

"The more we can do to eradicate them, the better. But, to me, (the changes) were no big deal. Business as usual."

James Jahnke can be reached at jahnkeja@msu.edu.


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