Daily Archives: June 11, 2014

Drugs and Sport: Doping and the Reality of Performance Enhancement Drugs within Australian Sports

The link between drugs and sport is one that has become a growing concern. With the fierce competition that exists within elite levels of sports, the temptation to use any means possible to enhance performance has proved for some to be too great.

In a field where the top elite cyclists will often avoid touching door handles or elevator buttons in order to avoid germs and possible sickness, it is unsurprising that performance enhancing drugs are too alluring for everyone to resist.

Careers have been ruined after scandals surrounding an athletes drug use – cyclist Lance Armstrong made headlines last year with his admissions of using performance enhancing drugs. Armstrong wasn’t just a good racer – he was an excellent cheater.

Armstrong had won seven straight Tour de France titles and even boasted never to have failed a drug test; but in 2012, he admitted, during an interview with Oprah Winfrey, that he had used performance enhancing drugs.

But while Armstrong is facing a lifetime ban, many others, not yet caught, continue to evade detection.

While some argue that using performance enhancing drugs (or doping) is no different to making use of technological improvements like sportswear, proponents of the anti-doping rule say that such measures go against the spirit of sport.

Not only is it unfair, but deadly – at least twenty six riders have died in suspicious circumstances in the last twenty years.

Drug testing in Australia is an essential part of the prevention of drugs being used in competitive sports.

Australian tests, regulated by Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA), can be either carried out in-competition or out-of-competition like the home or training ground and athletes must comply with requests for testing.

There are some valid reasons for athletes to refuse testing, such as full media commitments, performing a warm down, completing a training session or receiving medical treatment. But if there is no valid reason and an athlete still refuses, they may face sanctions and may even get the same penalty that would have resulted if drugs were detected.

Almost all of this testing is carried out with no notice and can include the collection of urine, blood or both.

Doping Control Officers are responsible for organising and managing this process, including witnessing the sample being provided. It is their responsibility to make sure that the sample collection process is fair.

In Australia, and according to ASADA, for a substance to be classified as prohibited it must meet two out of the three following conditions:

  • 1. The substance or method enhances, or has the potential to enhance performance in sport
  • 2. The substance or method has the potential to risk the health of the athlete
  • 3. The World Anti-Doping Agency has deemed the substance or method to violate the spirit of sport.

However all these guidelines and tough regulations have not been able to stamp out the problem: in fact the links between drugs and sport has been increasing.

According to the Australian Drug Foundation, Australian sporting clubs have a reputation for a ‘boozy’ culture, with drinking and drugs – both recreational and performance enhancing.

When the Australian Crime Commission handed down their report last year, it was dubbed ‘the darkest day’ in Australian sport.

The report found that performance enhancing drug use had increased significantly.

These findings ran across several clubs and different sports. Even racehorses were found to have been injected with drugs and perhaps most disturbingly, a case of team doping – orchestrated by club officials and coaching staff.

These findings uncover a worrying trend: an industry where athletes may be encouraged or even instructed by coaches, clubs, sports scientists or others to take drugs.

This doesn’t take away from the personal choice that athletes such as Armstrong made when taking drugs, but it shows that the problem lies deeper than just a few athletes. The industry is a large part of the problem and needs to take responsibility for its part in the encouragement and facilitation of competitors taking performance enhancing drugs.

What are synthetic drugs?

Synthetic drugs (also known as ‘legal highs’) are intoxicating substances that are not illegal due to technical loopholes. Synthetic drugs are designed to imitate illegal substances like cannabis, cocaine and methamphetamine.

They can come in powdered form, as pills or dried herbs soaked in chemicals.

But the law regarding synthetic drugs that weren’t technically illegal changed in September last year when NSW became the first state in Australia to ban substances with psychoactive properties.

It is now illegal to posses, sell, manufacture, supply and advertise these substances with penalties for possession with up to 12 months imprisonment, and over $2,000 in fines (or both).

This legislation aimed to thwart manufacturers who tinkered with chemical compositions in their products if they were banned, and simply put out a new, modified (and non-illegal) product.

Previously, many of these substances were simply too new to be illegal, under conventional New South Wales poisons categorisation, which worked by adding new substances to a list of those prohibited.

But the flaw with this system was that it lagged behind the changing composition of the synthetic drugs. This meant that only once a substance was known could it be banned, by which time the manufacturers had already had plenty of opportunity to move on and develop new products.

This has resulted in a plethora of legal substances appearing in Australia at an alarming rate.

The new NSW laws follow the Commonwealth government approach for poisons, which ban whole classes of chemicals instead of individual compounds. This means that substances yet to be developed can still fall under the ban.

This move to crackdown on these dangerous substances came soon after the tragic death of Henry Kwan, a bright and talented Sydney teenager close to finishing high school. In mid 2013, after school one day, he took a synthetic drug.

After smashing bottles in his bedroom, he became ill and then started to hallucinate. Despite the attempts of his mother and sister to restrain him, he leapt from the balcony of their home. He landed on his head and died.

The drug he had taken was known as the N-bomb, and he had earlier obtained it from a school classmate. Perhaps the most astonishing thing about this story is that drugs like the N-bomb were completely legal, although Kwan’s death was at least the third of its kind.

This number has since risen.

The N-bomb, or 25I-NBOMe as it is more properly called, is a hallucinogen which is 25 times more potent than LSD. Like the N-bomb, most other synthetic drugs can be much more potent than those they are attempting to imitate.

Although many are marketed as harmless, they are far from it. Synthetic drugs have already caused at least five fatalities in last two years.

Although prior to last year, they were easily accessible online or even over the counter in adult stores and tobacconists, retailers are now banned from selling them.

There is no dealer, no middle man and the prices are much cheaper than for some other drugs – N-bomb, the synthetic drug that Kwan took, can cost as little as $2, making them quite affordable for school children.

One emergency doctor lamented in an online newspaper article the days of just heroin or cocaine admittance, as doctors then knew what they were dealing with. But the composition of these new drugs are constantly changing, and can even change from batch to batch.

Medical staff are not aware of the composition of the drug that a patient has ingested, and so have difficulty treating the patient. There is no safe dosage and they can be far from harmless.

The NSW government has published a fact sheet with information about synthetic drugs as well as outlining the harm and criminal penalties that are consequential to the use of synthetic drugs.

Many are sceptical about the success of laws banning synthetic drugs, saying it will just drive the market underground, and will not deter those convinced to get their hands on them.

It is argued that the problem of banning them is not so simple, due to the way that addiction works. Those that are already addicted and unable to buy the product online or off the shelf will simply look to the illegal market to feed their addition.

Henry Kwan’s father warns other parents of the consequences of taking these ‘harmless’ synthetic drugs. He hopes that the tragic story of his own son will at leas serve as a warning to others.

Drugs at Music Festivals

While some might think that music festivals and drugs go hand in hand, so do police, and music festivals are often targeted for that very reason.

Every year, police catch hundreds of revellers in possession of drugs.

Many festival goers find this out when they have to go before a magistrate and respond to charges of drug possession.

One young tourist was recently summoned to the Downing Centre Local Court and had to appear before a magistrate after being found in possession of 20 ecstasy tablets.

He was caught with the drugs at a music festival the day before he was due to fly back home.

Instead he had to put off his flight and appear in court. Fortunately, he avoided jail time but left with a hefty fine and a scare that convinced him that he never wanted to do drugs again.

At a Sydney music festival late last year police arrested over 84 people on drug related charges.

More than 100 police were present and sniffer dogs and officers searched 430 people.

Apart from the criminal penalties that can attach to drug possession are the real risks that drugs carry.

Tragically, a 23 year old Victorian man died at a hospital after a suspected drug overdose at the rave. It was believed he drove up from Victoria to attend the festival with friends.

The festival attracted over 18,000 patrons, some of whom, afraid of getting caught for possession, took the two or three pills they brought at once instead of spreading them out over the day before entering the festival.

Some have speculated that the high prices of alcohol inside the venue contribute to the use of drugs which are comparatively cheaper. At least 20 others overdosed on drugs at the same rave.

Often police will work closely with security, checking bags and employing drug detection dogs.

Police are targeting those responsible for drug supply but also reducing the impact of drugs in the community.

According to the law, a police officer does not need a warrant to use a sniffer dog and can carry out a general drug detection search if they have a ‘suspicion on reasonable grounds’ that your are carrying drugs when:

  • You are seeking to enter or leave premises where alcohol is sold and consumed
  • You are seeking to enter or leave a public place where a sporting event, concert, performance, dance party, parade or other entertainment is being held
  • You are seeking to enter or leave public transport, including a station, platform or any stopping place

This means that whenever you are attempting to enter or leave a music festival you may legally be subjected to a drug detection dog search.

However sniffer dogs are just one way that you might come to the attention of police and subjected to a search.

When conducting a search, police must abide by the rules – to stop, search or detain you without a warrant, the police must suspect on reasonable grounds that you are carrying a prohibited substance.

Illegal searches may mean that the evidence is inadmissible in court and charges can be dropped.

Experienced drug lawyers are often able to secure the withdrawal of charges of drug possession that came about due to an illegal search by writing to the Local Area Commander, highlighting the illegality and formally requesting withdrawal. That letter will often contain a warning to police that if they continue with the case, an application will be made to the court for police to pay our client’s legal costs once the case is thrown out.

The maximum penalty for drug possession is two years imprisonment and/or a $2,200 fine. Needless to say, a criminal conviction could affect your future work and travel prospects.

The actual penalty you may receive will vary depending on many factors including if you already have a criminal record, if you show remorse for your actions, whether you cooperated with the police and other circumstances surrounding the offence.

Fortunately, it is often possible to avoid the most severe penalties, and Sydney Drug Lawyers have a proven track record of achieving the best possible results for clients charged with drug possession.

This includes regularly achieving ‘section 10 dismissals and conditional release orders‘ for drug possession and small drug supply cases, which means guilty but no criminal record.

Our specialist drug defence lawyers will fight for you every step of the way.

Should I plead guilty to a charge of drug possession?

Deciding how to plead for drug possession, especially if you have not come into contact with the law before may seem daunting and confusing. This blog outlines a few factors you should keep in mind when deciding how to plead.

Sometimes the amount of evidence that the prosecution has accrued may seem overwhelming. Being caught red-handed on video will not help your case, to say the least. But this does not automatically mean you have no chance of succeeding if you decide to plead not guilty.

There are several defences to drug possession and other drug-related crimes such as a lack of knowledge or exclusive possession of the area where the drugs were found.

It may also be possible to get prosecution evidence made inadmissible in court if it was the result of an illegal search. It may be worthwhile getting some advice from a lawyer about the availability of options in defending yourself against the charges.

Next, consider what is at stake: some drug charges come with heavy penalties, and all potentially have jail time attached.

Possession has a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment, a $2,200 fine or both.

A first time offender caught with two or three ecstasy pills is unlikely to spend time in jail. But if you already have past convictions, or are charged with other drug-related offences as well as possession, you can expect to less leniency from the magistrate when it comes to sentencing.

If you think you could end up facing a very long prison sentence you should absolutely speak to a lawyer before deciding how to plead. There is no way to be 100% sure of what the particular judge or magistrate who decides your case will say, but an experienced drug lawyer will have seen numerous other drug unfold, and will have a better idea of the best way to run your case.

If you do decide to plead guilty to a drug charge, it is better to do this as early on as possible. If you plead guilty before your case goes to trial, you may be able to expect a sentence reduction, around 10-25%, depending on when you plead guilty.

Conversely, if you were given plenty of opportunities to plead guilty, and you didn’t plead guilty until a later stage, this will not work in your favour.

If you plead guilty to lesser charges, you may even secure the withdrawal of more serious ones. If you have been charged with drug possession as well as other, more serious, offences, pleading guilty to possession police may drop the more serious charges.

If, for example, you were charged with drug supply and possession, and there is no question about the fact that you were in possession of the drugs at the time, you can ask the prosecution to drop the supply charge on the basis that you plead guilty to the possession.

This is known as plea-bargaining.

In addition, pleading guilty to a drug charge may work towards securing what is known as a ‘section 10 dismissal or conditional release order’. This means that although convicted, you will not end up with a criminal record.

This is a valid consideration if you have reason to be concerned about the impact of a conviction on your current and future employment as well as potential overseas travel plans, which could well be prejudiced by a criminal record.

Pleading guilty to a small amount of possession, for example, just a few pills can often be the quickest way to have your matter dealt with.

Things you can do once you have plead guilty to reduce your sentence

If you have decided to plead guilty there are several steps you can take to make sure that when you have to appear in court you are well-prepared and maximise your chances of the magistrate dealing with you leniently.

Showing remorse for your offence is a factor that the judge can consider in the sentencing process.

Writing an apology letter to the court, or obtaining about three character references can have a significant impact on your case and can go a long way to showing you are remorseful for your actions.

The people who you ask to write these references should ideally know you well, and they must be aware that you are pleading guilty to the charges against you.

Participating in the MERIT program, if this is an option available for you, can also work to your advantage. MERIT stands for Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment, and aims to break the cycle of drug addiction.

When it comes time to hear the case in court, your progress in the program will be taken into account by the magistrate.

If you are, at any point unsure about your options regarding how to plead, speaking to a criminal lawyer is your best option.

Drug arrest every six minutes during the last financial year

It seems that drug arrests and seizures are on the rise, Australia-wide.

Last financial year there was a drug arrest on average every six minutes, according to the Australian Crime Commission, and this number the highest on record.

In addition there was a drug seizure made every seven minutes with a total of 86,916 seizures being made in 2012-3, a massive increase of 66.4% since 2003-4.

There were a record number of cocaine and steroid seizures and arrests.

It was responsible for 61% of drug-related arrests.

The number of clandestine laboratories detected nationally decreased from 809 in the previous year to 757 this reporting period, but it still remains the second highest number on record.

The majority of those found are in residential areas, although there has been an increase in the number of those found in commercial or industrial locations.

Look at the Australian Crime Commission Report, 2012-3 report, for more information on recent drug trends.

While the rising number of arrests and seizure could be due in part to greater police numbers, powers and resources, it is believed that Australia is also becoming of increasing interest to international drug cartels, because Australians are prepared to pay high prices for prohibited drugs.

Profiling indicates that South-East Asia is the most prominent source region of heroin seized, both at the border and throughout the country, while it indicates that cocaine is primarily sourced from Colombia.

International cartels have been breaking into the lucrative Australian market increasingly over the last five years.

One federal police inquiry late last year found that a number of cocaine cartels established their bases in the south Pacific in order to bring the drugs into Australia.

Prices in Australia are astronomical, compared to those in other countries.

For example, cocaine in Columbia is $3000 a kilogram and here the same amount could cost between $190,000 and $250,000.

Judy Lind, the executive director of strategy and specialist capabilities for the Commission, said she is particularly concerned with the increase in the use of ice, which can have catastrophic effects on not only the user, but those around them.

She cites examples of people who have got behind the wheel when under the influence of ice and caused disastrous accidents.

To read more of what she has to say on the trends, click here.

With over 100,000 people arrested for drug offences in Australia last year, should we be considering new strategies for dealing with drugs?

The current penalties for commercial drug supply and importation can be high – including up to life imprisonment for the most serious offences.

To find out more about penalties for drug offences, click here.

For drug possession, the maximum penalty is two years in prison and a $2,200 fine.

For drug supply, the maximum penalties can get more serious depending on the type of drug and the quantity.

Commander David Sharpe, from the Australian Federal Police has warned that police cannot ‘arrest their way’ out of this problem.

There has been a growing demand for a shift away from the traditional approach used by courts and the criminal justice system. One approach started in 1998 when the NSW Drug Court Act was introduced: the New South Wales Drug Court.

This court deals with drug charges differently to the Local or District Courts.

If a participant is accepted into the program they must undergo a custodial remand for detoxification and assessment which can take up to two weeks.

Each individual receives a treatment plan and must plead guilty. The program focuses on rehabilitation. Treatment undertaken as part of the program can take up to 12 months and punishments or privileges can be awarded by the court during this time.

In addition there is what is known as the MERIT program – Magistrates Early Referral into Treatment – which is available for adults whose cases may not be tried in the Drug Court with substance abuse problems and aims to help drug abusers recover as part of the bail process.