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What is Meldonium, the drug Maria Sharapova has been taking?

Maria Sharapova is a month away from her doping ban coming to an end, and her return is causing all kinds of issues. (YouTube)
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7th March, 2016
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Maria Sharapova has been given a provisional 12-month ban by the International Tennis Federation, after the Russian star tested positive for the banned substance Meldonium.

“As meldonium is a non-specified substance under the WADA (and, therefore, TADP) list of Prohibited Substances and Prohibited Methods, Ms Sharapova will be provisionally suspended with effect from 12 March, pending determination of the case,” read the ITF’s press release.

Sharapova has declined the opportunity to have her b sample tested, acknowledging that she was using said banned substance when she was tested on January 26, 2015.

More:
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» Maria, what the hell were you thinking?
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However, the former World No.1 believes there are mitigating factors surrounding her positive test.

“For the past ten years I have been given a medicine called Mildronate by my doctor – by my family doctor,” she said at a press conference in Los Angeles.

“A few days ago after I received the ITF letter, I found out that it also has another name of Meldonium, which I did not know.

“It’s very important for you to understand that for ten years this medicine was not on WADA’s banned list and I had been legally taking the medicine…

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“But on January first the rules had changed, and Meldonium became a prohibited substance, which I had not known.”

Meldonium was put on the banned list “because of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance”.

While available in Russia and much of Eastern Europe, it does not have FDA approval in the United States.

In terms of its performance enhancing abilities, a 2005 review by scientists at the University of Latvia explained that users “become more active, their motor dysfunction decreases, and asthenia, dizziness and nausea become less pronounced”.

More recently, the Centre for Preventative Doping Research at the German Sport University found that “Mildronate demonstrates an increase in endurance performance of athletes, improved rehabilitation after exercise, protection against stress, and enhanced activations of central nervous system (CNS) functions”.

Sharapova said she was prescribed the drug in 2006 as she “was getting the flu every couple of months”.

“It made me healthy, and that’s why I continued to take it,” she said.

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The drug is also said to battle the onset of diabetes, which Sharapova said she has a family history of.

It seems unlikely Sharapova could avoid any ban for using this substance, simply because ignorance is no excuse for using a banned substance.

More to the point, it’s not as though Meldonium was banned under cover of darkness on January 1 – World Anti-Doping Agency released their 2016 Prohibited List on September 16 last year.

Meldonium was right there on page one (of one and a bit pages, it’s hardly exhaustive reading), and while Maria appeared to be playing the ‘I didn’t realise it had another name’ card, the drug was referred to as “Meldonium (Mildronate)”.

WADA on Meldonium

Of course whatever name it was being referred to doesn’t really matter, since Sharapova also admitted she had received an email from WADA regarding the 2016 Prohibited List, but failed to read it.

And, to be fair to her, she has put her hand up, saying, “I have to take full responsibility for it. It’s my body, and I’m responsible for what I put into it.”

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However one of her lawyers, John Haggerty, said her team would still use Sharapova’s long history with the drug as reason for her not to receive a lengthy ban.

“She acknowledged she took the drug called mildronate and that under a different name, meldonium, it is on the banned list,” Haggerty told the New York Times

“And that is why she’s acknowledged that she’s failed the drug test, and now we are just going through the ITF process to discuss with them why we believe that either no, or a very limited, sanction is required based upon all the facts surrounding why she was taking it, for how long she’s been taking it and the medical issues she was taking it for.”

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