Drugs and sports: New niche for pharmacy

December 12, 2005

Whether it's the ongoing steroids controversy surrounding Major League baseball or another Olympic athlete being banned from competition, the use of illegal steroids and performance-enhancing drugs is clearly on the rise. Because of this, both collegiate and professional sports teams are finding themselves under increasing pressure to monitor the drugs their athletes take.

Whether it's the ongoing steroids controversy surrounding Major League baseball or another Olympic athlete being banned from competition, the use of illegal steroids and performance-enhancing drugs is clearly on the rise. Because of this, both collegiate and professional sports teams are finding themselves under increasing pressure to monitor the drugs their athletes take.

While most, if not all, collegiate and professional teams employ athletic trainers and physicians on their staffs to treat injuries, few have a pharmacist on board to handle tasks such as the ordering and prescribing of Rx drugs for their athletes.

That's where Robert Nickell, R.Ph. and president/CEO of SportPharm Pharmaceuticals, Torrance, Calif., and his company come into play. Licensed by the Food & Drug Administration and state board of pharmacy, SportPharm can deliver medications directly to athletes or supply the team physician with medications repackaged to strict FDA standards for dispensing or administration on an as-needed basis. And while the service may not be the same as having a pharmacist on staff, it appears to be the next best thing.

SportPharm's Prescription Drug Management Program (utilizing proprietary software) is a medication-delivery and recordkeeping system that issues customized data-tracking reports and has the ability to interchange prescription drug data with injury tracking. It also provides access to consulting sports pharmacists and offers education, drug information, research, and consultation. Currently, more than 60% of all professional sports organizations and the USOC (United States Olympic Committee) training facilities utilize the program, according to Nickell.

"We're mainstream. We build a foundation and work with the teams," said Nickell. "We follow National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA)-banned drugs lists, USOC, anything that's going to fall into those categories as far as banned drugs. We make sure that we caution and avoid those medications getting to the athletes."

While Nickell's business practices do not normally involve his working one-on-one with the athletes but instead through team physicians, his experience as the first-ever pharmacist for the U.S. medical team at the Olympic Games in Athens last summer took on a much different tone. There he was on call nearly 24/7 and had the chance to interact with the athletes directly.

"My role is normally more to the medical staff than it is to the athletes, except when I was in Athens," said Nickell. "The biggest challenge was managing the venues. We had nine different venue locations with activities all going on at the same time. Each team had its own physician, so we had 15 or 20 physicians moving around the city, all needing drugs at the same time," he explained.

"We started by processing the athletes a couple of weeks in advance of the Games. They would go though physicals and we'd check for drug allergies, interactions, find out what they were taking, and make sure it was recorded on their chart. It's a high-stress atmosphere and was quite a challenge, but having a pharmacist on board certainly helped."

So with the pressure to win and excel in competitive sports becoming ever greater and the use of performance-enhancing drugs at an all-time high, is it time for every team to have a pharmacist on staff?