On Tuesday, Major League Baseball announced that Pittsburgh Pirates star outfielder Starling Marte had been suspended for 80 games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug.
Many were shocked that Marte had tested positive, but it is even more shocking that he tested positive for the steroid nandrolone, a drug called the "kiss of death."
Aaron Gordon of Vice Sports spoke with Victor Conte, the former head of the Bay-Area Laboratory Co-Operative, a lab that was linked to performance-enhancing drugs used by star athletes. Conte has called nandrolone the "kiss of death," and he told Vice that athletes who test positive for it are often taking something else.
According to Gordon, Conte said nandrolone "has the unfortunate combination of staying in a person's system for an excessively long time and being detectable at what's called 'ultratrace' rates." According to Conte, just a single use will remain in a person's system for at least six months and as long as 18 months.
In other words, if an athlete is going to cheat in a sport with banned drug, nandrolone is a terrible one to do so with because it will almost certainly lead to a failed drug test.
Conte went on to say athletes often test positive for nandrolone even if they aren't knowingly taking it because they are using other tainted performance-enhancing drugs.
"Conte said nandrolone is often detected when an athlete is taking another banned substance — likely testosterone — that was manufactured in an illicit laboratory that doesn't adhere to strict quality standards and also makes drugs for bodybuilders, who, of course, aren't subject to drug testing (the specifics of Marte's positive test are unknown). Because nandrolone can be detected in such low quantities, cross contamination from using the same equipment to manufacture other substances can happen."
Conte said glassware used to manufacture testosterone had a strict cleaning protocol requiring nitric and perchloric acids and "illicit labs that manufacture testosterone often don't adhere to such rigid standards." Because of this, Conte said, any athlete using drugs from "an underground lab" was running the risk of testing positive for nandrolone.
As Gordon noted, we don't know the details behind Marte's failed drug test, and it is possible we will never know. But nandrolone is a drug that even cheating athletes typically try to avoid.
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