REC provides multiple benefits for NCAA membership: Use of the REC, a database of information about performance-enhancing drugs and supplements, has nearly doubled over the past three years, from 6,575 inquiries in 2007 to 11,339 in 2009. While use in Divisions II and III is increasing, about 60 percent of REC usage is in Division I. Read the story
By Sally Huggins
Dietary supplements are advertised as safe, beneficial, energy-boosting, strength-enhancing … If you have ever watched late-night infomercials, you have heard the spiel. But what are they, really?
If the average consumer can’t figure it out, it’s no wonder that student-athletes may occasionally stumble into a substance that puts them on the wrong side of safety and possibly drug testing.
While recent surveys indicate that most student-athletes shy away from the supplement market, those who might be considering using them have a layer of protection – or more accurately, education – through the Resource Exchange Center of the National Center for Drug Free Sport. The NCAA has been a client of Drug Free Sport for more than a decade.
Created a decade ago, the REC’s sole purpose is to help coaches, athletic trainers and other athletics department personnel, student-athletes, and parents pass safely through the minefield of dietary supplements and other drugs, including over-the-counter medicines and prescription medication.
The REC has proven to be a valuable resource, verified by its increased use over time, which is good news to the NCAA and its Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports, which is charged with helping NCAA institutions ensure and protect the safety and well-being of NCAA student-athletes.
The REC is a subscription-based service that provides up-to-date information on dietary supplements and banned or prohibited substances, as well as interactive tools and educational materials to help student-athletes make responsible decisions.
Frank Uryasz, president of Drug Free Sport, said NCAA student-athletes, athletic trainers and other members of the athletics departments needed a drug and supplement “hotline” to obtain reliable information about banned drugs and supplements.
“We thought it was important that it be free and confidential, and the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports and the health and safety staff agreed,” Uryasz said.
Information in an instant
The NCAA was the first client, followed by the NFL and Major League Baseball. The NCAA provides access to the REC to all of its member schools, which in turn can provide access directly to the athletes or the athletics staff can use it to answer questions from the athletes.
Gerald Johnson, head athletic trainer at Delta State University, said the university provides access to all of its student-athletes so they can get answers about substances themselves. But the staff also strongly encourages the athletes to ask them directly, he said.
“We really encourage the athletes to bring the supplements to us. We want to know what’s out there, what they are using,” Johnson said. “Regardless of whether we have seen the substance before, we send the inquiry to the Resource Exchange Center and get a response back by e-mail within a day.”
Mindy Hoffman, assistant athletic trainer at Kansas State University, said the REC is used primarily by the Kansas State athletic training staff to get information. The staff prefers to call the REC hotline to speak to a person about the substance in question rather than ask questions by e-mail.
“The most useful tool it provides us is that we can check nutritional supplements very quickly and efficiently and can get an answer for our student-athletes,” Hoffman said. “It provides us information if the product contains any NCAA-banned substances, so our student-athletes will refrain from using it if it does contain a banned substance.”
REC membership provides access to a comprehensive database of information on the use of dietary supplements in sports, as well as information about anabolic steroids, ergonic aids such as diuretics, central nervous system stimulants and Erythropoietin (EPO), amphetamines, recreational and street drugs, prescription drugs, alcohol, and over-the-counter drugs.
The database is created and maintained by staff at the National Center for Drug Free Sport, as well as expert consultants:
The REC staff spends much of its time researching, with help from consultants in answering client questions to stay current on drugs and trends.
“We work with the best in their fields and spend a lot of time researching,” said Eric Patterson, REC director.
REC use on the rise
For the dietary supplements, REC staff members check regularly to see what is new or what has changed about an existing supplement. The staff especially looks at a supplement that has been rebranded or remarketed.
“Most REC usage points to performance-enhancing drugs, and within that are dietary supplements,” Patterson said. “Clients look at those heavily because of the lack of regulation for them.”
For drugs, both over-the-counter and prescription, the REC database is comprehensive. The staff works to make sure that the drug information is current and the classes of the drugs are current, Patterson said.
REC users can search the database themselves, send an e-mail inquiry about a drug or supplement, or call the hotline to talk with a REC staff person immediately. When someone sends an e-mail question to REC, it is promptly answered.
To promote the use of the Resource Exchange Center, REC representatives conduct on-campus presentations to educate both the athletics staff and the student-athletes about performance-enhancing substances. Patterson said he encourages everyone to constantly ask questions about any substance.
“We tell them if they are at a store and the sales associate is telling you it’s the best thing since sliced bread and completely safe, call us right then and we can help you. The sales associate isn’t trained to give you the information you’re looking for,” Patterson said.
Since its inception, the REC has evolved to make it more user-friendly for the client. The website (www.drugfreesport.com/rec/) is more interactive now. Rather than just ask a question, the user can search the database. Resources for coaches, athletes and parents are available as well. REC provides:
But Drug Free Sport is also proud of the manner in which REC has not changed.
“From the beginning, we made a commitment that anyone with access to the REC could talk with or send an e-mail to a real person – not a search engine and not a link to an outdated document. To this day, NCAA athletes may still talk with a member of the REC staff at any time,” said Uryasz, who acknowledged that the staff did have to add password access a few years ago, because so many people outside of subscribers wanted to ask questions.
A resource success story
The wealth of information available in the Resource Exchange Center is valuable to all NCAA schools, but so far most users are Division I members, Patterson said. The REC is working to increase usage in all divisions because all student-athletes need to be aware of the implications of using any supplement – to their health and to their athletics eligibility.
“We have seen growth. We are increasing our exposure and we are answering questions faster,” he said.
Delta State’s Johnson said he has found the REC to be a valuable resource, both to the athletics staff and to the students.
“We have it set up so the student athlete can use the Resource Exchange Center directly. We don’t keep a tally but we have several athletes ask about substances,” he said. “We even have students who have recently graduated who will ask us about a supplement. They don’t want to use anything that could be harmful to their health, even after graduation when eligibility takes a back seat.”
Uryasz feels strongly that the REC is succeeding at its mission, which is to provide up-to-date, confidential and accurate information on dietary supplements, dangerous or banned (prohibited) substances, and provide educational materials to empower athletes to make healthy and responsible decisions.
“There is no way to measure this, but I firmly believe that the REC has prevented a lot of positive drug tests by providing reliable educational information to NCAA student-athletes,” Uryasz said. “This was especially true at the time when it was a lot easier to obtain supplements with banned substances in them (such as ephedra or pro-hormones),” he said.