Competitive sports aren’t immune from counterfeiting despite the best efforts of organizations worldwide. The need to identify a counterfeit doping control kit makes the challenge more complex. Still, brands have options regarding anti-counterfeit protection.
Whether it’s a false negative drug test or a kit that doesn’t work correctly, doping control is a genuine problem in sports, including in high-level amateur events like the Olympics. Indeed, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) works hard to catch athletes who abuse illicit drugs or performance-enhancing substances, but the risk of using a counterfeit doping control kit remains a separate challenge, especially during official competitions. However, the good news is that you can avoid this issue with an ecosystem of anti-counterfeit technologies.
Doping control kits used for official competitions
The anti-doping landscape is challenging for many reasons. Mainly, the root of the problem revolves around the fact that some athletes will use drugs to gain an edge over the competition, but why? Why would someone go to those extremes despite the risk of disqualification and disgrace? The answers are pretty straightforward: financial gain and worldwide fame. Counterfeiters have discovered that they can profit from unwitting anti-doping organizations or try to con the athletes themselves.
For example, the WADA clearly specifies that athletes are responsible for the substances in their bodies before they compete in the Olympics, even if someone accidentally ingests a banned drug. To prevent this situation from occurring, athletes can use testing kits as a safeguard before undergoing official drug testing, so what happens when the kit itself is a counterfeit? In this instance, the athlete has a false sense of security, and when official quantitative testing reveals a positive result, they will most likely be disqualified from competing nonetheless. The athlete can be banned from participating in major events if the problem persists.
As such, using a legitimate, reliable doping control kit is critical. A fake doping control kit only reduces the legitimacy of testing and makes it harder to pinpoint which athletes are cheating and which are following anti-doping rules. The detection relies upon the equipment performing as intended, and a fake test can cast doubt on the results.
Types of doping control kits
Doping control kits come in two varieties: urine tests and blood tests. At a major event, the drug screening process begins with an athlete reporting to a doping control officer, and depending on the type of screen, the athlete may have to complete a urine drug screen (UDS) or a blood draw. But the athlete can choose which type of collection vessel or kit they use. The samples then go to laboratories to undergo a battery of tests, including an immunoassay, chromatography, or spectrometry. Immunoassays are the standard when testing urine for drugs and banned substances, with additional testing recommended via chromatography and spectrometry for qualitative confirmation of findings.
Furthermore, anti-doping organizations specify that athletes cannot have illegal drugs in their samples, such as THC, CBD, opiates, amphetamines, stimulants, growth hormones, or anabolic steroids. Metabolites from any of those drugs discovered during urine and blood testing indicate that the athlete abused them. Whether or not the athlete used drugs to gain a competitive advantage is irrelevant.
Even a trace amount of illicit drugs can trigger a positive result, but surreptitious performance-enhancing drugs are another problem. In fact, non-detectable designer drugs like the synthetic steroid tetrahydrogestrinone are intended to outwit doping control kits. When the test kit is fraudulent, the chances of catching these engineered drugs decrease significantly.
Risks caused by counterfeit doping control kits
The main risk with using a fake doping control kit is that the test can reveal false positives and false negatives, or the test may not identify a newly banned substance. False positive doping tests can occur in many ways since UDS relies on an initial immunoassay analysis. The result is positive if the UDS detects drugs and metabolites above a certain threshold. The problem is that immunoassays are the least quantitative controls due to lackluster specificity. As such, the procedure is to confirm results via more accurate measurements like chromatography and spectrometry.
Common over-the-counter medications like Ibuprofen and Naproxen can return false positives as their metabolites are structurally similar to metabolites from THC and barbiturate drugs. A fake test’s materials may have a lower threshold and, thus, return false positives. The other side of the issue is that false negatives can occur if the kit’s materials have too high thresholds to detect trace amounts of substances. So, the impact on the sport in question can be significant without reliable detection.
The damage ultimately affects the legitimacy of the sport because it will lose credibility, and fans may start to associate the sport with rampant cheating. As other sports tighten anti-doping measures, a sport that is slow to adopt best practices will become less popular and, thus, less profitable.
Additionally, an athlete’s entire career can be in jeopardy if testing reveals a false positive result. They can receive lifetime bans in certain leagues, not only temporary suspensions, and repeat offenders won’t be able to compete in any competition. Athletes train for months, if not years, to refine their skills, so when doping kits are fake, it can put their career at risk.
There’s also the issue of public health and safety. If a new substance is undetectable, some athletes abuse it, but unanticipated adverse reactions can occur. Steroids are an excellent example of the type of ill health effects doping can have on the body. They can cause dysfunction in reproductive organs or lead to mental health problems.
Having said that, the question is this: how can we avoid this situation altogether? The answer is to improve the accuracy of counterfeit detection. It’s a mistake to assume that tracking and traceability will suffice as an anti-counterfeit measure because that’s not the purpose. A security solution works best when criminal enterprises can’t readily replicate the protection, which is where our solution – AlpVision Fingerprint – comes into the equation.
AlpVision Fingerprint – Physical Products Protection
AlpVision Fingerprint, our technology that can identify fraudulent test materials at the product level, is a powerful solution to add to your company’s anti-counterfeit ecosystem. The software works by identifying the intrinsic defects in the molds for plastic components. In this case, the plastic molds would be used for the doping control kit’s various parts. The software then references these defects to see whether or not the same microscopic imperfections exist. If so, we can trust that the product is authentic.
Also, AlpVision Fingerprint is incredibly difficult for fraudsters to copy the unique imperfections in a plastic mold. The random processes deployed to make the plastic mold, like electro-erosion, are extraordinarily challenging to fake with any semblance of accuracy. The systems required to execute the con are also expensive and not widely available to the public, thus making it more secure.
If you’d like to learn more about anti-counterfeit technologies for doping control test kits, Contact us to see how we can help you build a holistic ecosystem of anti-counterfeit protection.