A veterinary drug used by elite athletes as a performance enhancer has spread to the general public in Australia, with doctors reporting an increase in hospitalisations due to the drug’s toxic effects.
Clenbuterol, a prescription-only Schedule 4 drug, is legally used on horses. It was used in food-producing animals to increase lean meat yield before it was banned in 1991 in the US and 1996 in Europe.
The International Olympic Committee and World Anti-Doping Agency banned it because of its performance-enhancing properties. Cyclist Alberto Contador and sprinter Katrin Krabbe are two notable athletes banned because of its use.
Dr Jonathan Brett, from the Department of Drug Health at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital and researchers from the NSW Poisons Information Center found 63 cases of clenbuterol exposures over 9 years.
There was a dramatic increase from 3 cases in 2008 to 27 in 2012. At least 53 patients (84%) required hospitalisation.
The most common reasons for using clenbuterol are bodybuilding and slimming. Symptoms include nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting, tremor, chest pain, other cardiac symptoms, including, in one case, cardiac arrest.
The misuse of clenbuterol “poses secondary risk of accidental poisoning of children”, the researchers write in the Medical Journal of Australia.
The doctors say:
“There are arguments to restrict sales and/or use by … putting [this drug] into the same category as benzodiazepines and anabolic steroids. Diversion of veterinary products for purposes of misuse is a longstanding issue, which also should be tackled.”
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