By James Reid
Andrew Heyes has welcomed the upcoming ban on tramadol and told fellow athletes it ‘should not be something you are looking at’.
The substance will be added to the World Anti-Doping Agency’s (WADA) banned list on 1 January 2024, a decision which has the firm backing of the 2018 UK Indoor 3000m champion.
The 33-year-old recently competed at the 50km World Championships in Hyderabad where a bad case of cramp dashed his hopes of an individual medal.
But the Hallamshire Harrier, who is also a post-doctoral researcher in sport integrity at Leeds Beckett University, insists the banning of the substance is a step in the right direction in the bid for cleaner sport.
🚨| Another reminder that tramadol will be included in the 2024 Prohibited List and will be prohibited in-competition.
Strict liability applies to all athletes so make sure you are aware of these changes.
For more information 👇https://t.co/jxWqirJzn4#Tramadol #AntiDoping https://t.co/ua62dlobE6
— UK Anti-Doping (@ukantidoping) November 13, 2023
“It was a great experience, though I am slightly disappointed with the result,” he said.
“I went out to win an individual medal and ended up blowing up towards the second half of the race.
“Distance running, regardless of the distance, there is always some sort of pain you experience.
“I have not really come face to face with people using tramadol during an event or have had anyone who has said they are taking tramadol to deal with that sort of pain. But it is quite common to hear people taking paracetamol or ibuprofen prior to a race, and during some of the longer races as well.
“There is massive stress on the body but dealing with pain is one of the challenges we face in the sport we are competing in.
“It might be for dealing with an injury or a niggle when going into an event or it might be that you feel like to deal with the pain of being in that event you have to take something beforehand but using tramadol shouldn’t be something you are looking at.”
Tramadol will join the Prohibited List at the start of next year following a WADA announcement in September 2022, with the aim to give athletes ample time to adjust if necessary.
That decision came in response to increased concerns about athlete welfare as well as growing evidence to suggest it can be performance enhancing.
And Heyes, who is a UK Anti-Doping (UKAD) Athlete Commission Member, admitted high-profile cases, such as former England goalkeeper Chris Kirkland’s battle with addiction, really hit home in highlighting just how dangerous tramadol can be.
He added: “There is a combined issue going on here that it is absolutely a welfare issue.
“This is quite a serious painkiller drug in terms of the addictive possibilities and the prolonged use of opioids is pretty serious even for therapeutic use.
“It does seem to be performance enhancing as well. There is some evidence coming out recently that it is performance enhancing in terms of reducing the perception of effort.
“Chris Kirkland’s story is just so eye-opening. It was so powerful to see what he went through, but it was also really powerful for someone to come out and speak about this.
“It is so good that we have him here to talk about his experience of dealing with that and what he sought in terms of help. Those really powerful stories really bring it home.”
The World Anti-Doping Agency @wada_ama has published the 2024 List of Prohibited Substances and Methods, which enters into force on 1 January 2024.
It should be noted that the narcotic Tramadol will be prohibited in competition.
Key info for athletes & support personnel: ⬇️
— UEFA (@UEFA) November 21, 2023
Cases like Kirkland’s, along with that of former England rugby union star Danny Cipriani, highlight the difficulties facing bodies such as UKAD in dealing with athletes who may be breaking the rules when other factors, such as mental health issues, may be involved.
But Heyes is confident there are better safeguards in place to help those who need it and pointed to education as the key going forwards.
“I hope that now in 2023 we are starting to have a compassionate approach to sport, where it is not just win at all costs,” he added.
“It is really important that people have the space and time to say, ‘this is a massive issue for me’ and know where to go.
“There needs to be a bit more work done in providing that mental health support and being there for athletes who feel like they have no other way [than to break rules].
“The education of athletes is paramount. It is growing in terms of the importance placed on education.
“If you can help athletes to make the right decisions early on in their careers and approach sport from a stance where cheating just isn’t accepted, I would rather there was a focus on that rather than constantly fighting a battle of banning substances coming through.”
Act now on tramadol ban. UK Anti-Doping Athlete Commission call to athletes to stay aware of the impending ban on tramadol.