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Reminder: Junior dos Santos got a raw deal from USADA

Junior dos Santos’ USADA ordeal shows the UFC’s anti-doping policy has a long way to go in terms of athlete’s rights.

UFC on Fox: Velasquez v Dos Santos - Press Conference Photo by Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

Junior dos Santos is making his return as the headliner of UFC Boise after a six-month USADA suspension, which was given due to an out-of-competition sample returning positive for the diuretic hydrochlorothiazide.

It took USADA almost nine months to complete their investigation, during which time JDS was unable to compete. His failed test sample was taken on August 10th, 2017, and it wasn’t until April 24th, 2018, that his suspension was confirmed and announced.

At the end of those 8 and a half months, they announced a six-month suspension for him. Not only was he de-facto suspended for almost three months longer than he should have been, there’s a strong argument that he should have received no suspension at all.

First, let’s consider the substance he tested positive for, hydrochlorothiazide. Were there any strong indications that this case might be a case of contamination from the get-go? The answer is yes, absolutely.

For one, taking a diuretic while out of competition provides no competitive advantage. They are primarily banned out of competition due to the theoretical potential for their use as a masking agent, by increasing urination and decreasing the concentration of any metabolites in the urine as a result.

Since diuretics now carry the same punishment as most of the banned list, taking them for this purpose is beyond stupid - the diuretic might make a drug undetectable a day or two early, but then the diuretic itself will still be detectable that day, and for week afterwards. Taking a diuretic increases the risk of a positive test as a result.

There’s also the fact that this particular diuretic is notorious for contaminating supplements and even medications. Here’s what I had to say about the substance back in August 2017 when the positive came to light:

“Hydrochlorothiazide has also been shown to turn up in medications like non-steroidal anti-inflammatories which are completely legal and purchased in pharmacies. Even if companies follow the industry standard 10 parts-per-million allowed contamination, that’s still enough to cause a false positive for hydrochlorothiazide.”

From the start, then, USADA will have known there’s a strong possibility that this case was due to contamination. The fact Junior’s test results were also consistent with contamination should have served as a further alarm bell. Despite that, JDS missed out on at least one payday due to his unofficial provisional suspension.

At the end of USADA’s near-nine-month investigation, they still decided to suspend dos Santos for six months. That’s despite JDS going out of his way to contract a compound pharmacy — with a sterling reputation at that point, and price-tag to match — to make his supplements at the direction of his doctor, to ensure they would be free of banned substances and contamination.

That’s despite the recent ruling at arbitration in the Josh Barnett case, which suggested USADA use the Cilic vs. ITF standard when deciding on what punishment an athlete should face based on degree of fault. In that case, due to the steps and care Barnett took, the arbitrator decided Barnett should receive only a reprimand, despite USADA trying to suspend him for well over a year. You could easily argue JDS should only receive a reprimand as well.

To have a chance of getting his punishment reduced to a reprimand Junior would have had to go to arbitration, adding months to the process, plus considerable extra expense. Even if the arbitrator did give a reprimand, he wouldn’t get that time back, or the money he lost out on while in suspension limbo.

That’s the unfortunate reality for athletes under the current system. Even if you take extensive precautions, even if you assist USADA as much as you can, even if you pay for your own supplements to be tested… the deck is still stacked against you.

You will still be — in real terms — suspended before the investigation is complete, and you’re likely to still be suspended even if you had no way of knowing you were taking a banned substance. You’ll be suspended even if that banned substance couldn’t enhance your performance anyway. That’s not fair to athletes by any standard, and they’re starting to realize it.

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