Australia’s Olympic athletes will be banned from using prescription insomnia treatments during the London games starting this month.
The Australian Olympic Committee said it amended its team medical manual to prohibit the use of Stilnox and other zolpidem related drugs after former Olympic swimming champion Grant Hackett said that he became heavily reliant on the sleeping pill toward the end of his career.
“Our overriding obligation is to protect the health of our athletes,” AOC President John Coates said today at a news conference in Sydney. “This was only really brought to my attention when I read Grant Hackett’s revelations. If I’m to blame for not having got on top of this earlier and not having understood it better earlier, I accept that blame.”
Hackett, who won the 1,500 meters freestyle at the Sydney and Athens games, told Sydney’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper that he took Stilnox over a “longer than usual period” during his comeback following shoulder surgery between the 2004 and 2008 Olympics. He also used the drug to help rest during competition.
“At one point they scared me. They’re evil,” the newspaper cited Hackett as saying two days ago.
Coates said Australian athletes have already been practicing other relaxation techniques which would overcome the need for sleeping pills. They will be allowed prescriptions for the short-acting drug Temazepam for up to three days in “extreme circumstances,” he said.
Athletes will also be reminded about the risks of caffeine to try and prevent them falling into a pattern of uppers and downers, Coates said. Caffeine is no longer on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s list of banned substances.
“We are very worried about the vicious cycle of athletes taking caffeine as a performance enhancer and then needing to take drugs such as Stilnox to get to sleep,” he said. “While caffeine has come off the WADA prohibited list in the last few years, we still think that there are these consequential problems and we’ll be making sure that our athletes are very well briefed on them.”