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Exclusive: Wada to ban painkiller tramadol following harrowing addiction stories

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 19/09/2022 Ben Rumsby
Wada to ban painkiller tramadol following harrowing addiction stories - GETTY IMAGES © GETTY IMAGES Wada to ban painkiller tramadol following harrowing addiction stories - GETTY IMAGES

A powerful painkiller behind harrowing stories of addiction in football and rugby is on the brink of being banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Telegraph Sport can reveal that tramadol is close to being added to World Anti-Doping Code prohibited list, with Wada’s executive committee meeting on Friday to rubber-stamp a recommendation for it to be so.

A ban, which would take effect from January 1, would come two months after former Liverpool and England goalkeeper Chris Kirkland revealed he had become so addicted to the opioid that he came close to taking his own life.

Ex-Arsenal and England captain Tony Adams also told Telegraph Sport in 2019 that “tramadol is the new drug of choice” among rugby league players ahead of a stint as president of the Rugby Football League.

The revelation by Adams, who said his Sporting Chance clinic had helped 400 rugby league players wean themselves off prescription painkillers since 2011, was followed by rugby union players lifting the lid on a culture of prescription drug use in the game – particularly tramadol.

The drug, which can also cause nausea, drowsiness and a loss of concentration, has been on Wada’s monitoring programme for a decade and there has been mounting pressure for it to be added to the prohibited list, including from UK Anti-Doping.

It was banned by the Union Cycliste International (UCI) in 2019 amid long-standing calls to that effect, including from the then Team Sky, and this summer saw Nairo Quintana retrospectively stripped of sixth place at the Tour de France after it was found in two of his blood samples.

He denies taking it and this month lodged an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Tramadol is only prohibited in competition by the UCI and a Wada ban would also not prevent it being taken out of competition.

However, the move would stop it being used to allow an injured player to play through the pain, something for which a therapeutic-use exemption (TUE) is also unlikely to be granted.

Kirkland, whose career was plagued by back problems, revealed this summer that he had at one stage been taking 2,500 milligrams of tramadol a day, more than six times the maximum recommended.

He said his addiction to painkillers had deepened his anxiety to the extent that he suffered hallucinations and was hyperventilating, leading to him almost taking his own life.

He said there were other players taking such medication who had contacted him, with some scared to go public amid fears it would cost them their place in their teams.

Wada refused to comment on plans to add tramadol to the prohibited list but said in a statement: “The list is reviewed annually in consultation with scientific, medical and anti-doping experts to ensure it reflects current medical and scientific evidence and doping practices.

“Tramadol does feature on the Monitoring Program for 2022. The Monitoring Program includes substances that are not on the Prohibited List, but that Wada wishes to monitor in order to detect patterns of misuse in sport.”

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