Pharmacists and the XXIX Olympic Games

September 15, 2008

Two US pharmacists volunteer at Beijing Olympics.

"I was introduced as the team pharmacist, and we had an exchange," Pavlovich, a PharmD from Torrance, Calif., said. "It took about five or 10 seconds, but it was exciting. You don't meet the president every day."

The encounter simply enhanced the American team spirit Pavlovich felt during his five weeks at the Olympic Games. He was one of several pharmacists who played vital roles behind the scene at these Olympics.

It was the first Olympic games and first trip to Asia for Pavlovich, the pharmacist-in-charge at HNP Pharmaceuticals and head of its SportPharm division.

His boss, Robert Nickell, was the first pharmacist to serve on the Olympic medical team during the Athens games in 2004. For the Beijing games, Nickell offered the opportunity to Pavlovich, paying his salary while he worked the games as a volunteer.

Back in California the two men are good friends. Ambrose - who also runs a sports pharmacy clerkship at UCSF - brings his students to SportPharm to learn from Pavlovich and Nickell.

In Beijing Ambrose and Pavlovich got together for dinner and a visit to a Chinese pharmacy. But their jobs during the Olympics were very different. "His are the drugs on the out. Mine are the drugs on the in," Pavlovich joked.

In other words, Ambrose spent time taking urine and blood from international athletes to test for banned substances, while Pavlovich worked with American athletes to give them the medications they needed.

It was Ambrose's third visit to Olympic games as a DCO; he served in Atlanta in 1996 and in Sydney in 2000.

"The Chinese DCOs are doctors, and the other international DCOs work for their respective countries' anti-doping agencies," he said. The DCOs planned to perform 600 precompetition tests and 4,500 tests in total. Although most of the tests were urine tests, the DCOs sometimes tested blood for specific substances and transfusions.

During the games, Ambrose was based at the National Aquatics Center, nicknamed "the water cube." "There are 11 Chinese DCOs assigned there and me," he said. "The DCOs speak English, and they conduct meetings in English for me."

The language barrier became an issue when Ambrose and Pavlovich decided to visit a Chinese pharmacy. "Unfortunately, they didn't speak English," Pavlovich said. He described seeing pharmaceuticals sitting out in glass cases, which left him wondering how people received medication from the pharmacist. Pavlovich also planned to squeeze in a visit to a TCM, or traditional chinese pharmacy, where herbs are dispensed.

Pavlovich was in Beijing July 24 through Aug. 27. Ambrose arrived a day later and departed Aug. 15 because most of the drug testing took place before the games opened.