Tony Galea was arrested in October after a pack of Mounties found HGH and something called Actovegin in his medical bag. Neither, so far as science knows, is a performance-enhancing drug, but people have decided to lose their minds anyway.
First, let's note that Galea's arrest two months ago was covered extensively in the Canadian press. No one much cared Stateside until his most famous patient, Tiger Woods, got caught with his dick out, at which point it apparently became such a big deal that it warranted not just the front page of The New York Times, but the efforts of five of its reporters, among them crusading anti-drug Boy Scout Michael Schmidt. (Galea helped Tiger Woods rehab from his knee injury with a perfectly legal treatment called Platelet Rich Plasma, aka "blood spinning.") The Times' story is a tour de force of innuendo and guilt by association and SCARY, SCARY DRUGS journalism, from which we're encouraged to believe that because Galea once paid Tiger a house call, he also used to pump the golfer full of HGH. And the whole thing wobbles precariously on one vague, anonymously sourced sentence: "[Galea] is suspected of providing athletes with performance-enhancing drugs, according to several people who have been briefed on the investigation."
Which drugs, the Times doesn't say. Just "performance-enhancing."
Here's the extent of what we know, via ESPN:
According to federal documents, Catalano [Galea's assistant], 32, declared under questioning by U.S. border authorities that she had medical supplies in her vehicle. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents inspected her Nissan Rogue and found 20 vials and 76 ampoules of unknown misbranded drugs — including human growth hormone — and foreign labeled homeopathic drugs, 111 syringes, a diagnostic ultrasound computer, miscellaneous documents and a laptop computer. Agents notified investigators with the Food and Drug Administration.
The only two drugs named thus far have been Actovegin and HGH, neither of which is a steroid, despite what all these people seem to think. Human Growth Hormone is, of course, one of the most heavily regulated drugs in the country; it can be prescribed for only a handful of uses. Whether HGH constitutes a performance-enhancing drug remains an open question — the balance of clinical studies suggest it doesn't — but in part because no non-invasive test yet exists that can detect its presence, it has become our new PED bogeyman (it's on everyone's banned list, including the PGA's). Which is why our columnists write things like this:
While Galea claims he never has given performance-enhancing drugs to Woods or any other athlete, it more than raises eyebrows when he tells the newspaper that he began injecting himself with HGH five days a week about 10 years ago, after he turned 40. Why? For one reason, he wants to live a longer life with his wife, who he says is 22 years younger than him.
You know what's really recklessly irresponsible? Dealing with a doctor who has a history of using and prescribing the banned HGH substance, that's what.
SCARY, SCARY DRUGS!
In Canada, as the Times notes, prescribing HGH is legal. Galea may very well be a charlatan; he may even be a drug smuggler. But the mere fact that a doctor legally prescribes HGH as part of his practice is no more indicative of PED-peddling than is a doctor who signs off on a steroid prescription for a lung cancer patient.
And Actovegin? The New York Times calls it "controversial," which is really just a way of saying that French people once bitched about Lance Armstrong taking the stuff. In reality, Actovegin, which is derived from calf's blood, is innocuous enough that even the World Anti-Doping Agency won't put it on its banned list, and these are the same people who once banned caffeine. It is not a controlled substance, as attorney Rick Collins points out, but it hasn't yet been submitted for the FDA's approval process, which is why you can't legally use, sell, or import it. John Hoberman, an author and expert on doping, calls it "one of those dubious things." "It's not medicine," he tells me. "It's probably junk." In 2001, the Austin American-Statesman described it thusly:
Contrary to some published reports, Actovegin isn't new, and it isn't akin to the powerful banned blood-booster erythropoietin, known as EPO. There's debate about how much, if any, of a boost Actovegin by itself can provide to athletes, and whether a test could accurately detect its use .
"I've been forced to learn a lot about it," said [Lance] Armstrong, who has denied taking the substance. "It's not what people think it is."
Steven Wolff, a professor of medicine and a hematologist-oncologist at Vanderbilt University, said, "I've looked at a lot of medical research, and none of it is convincing to me that it can be used as a performance-enhancer. It's definitely not like EPO."
So here's what we're talking about: one drug that might've been in Galea's medical bag for perfectly innocent reasons, or even for nefarious ones totally unrelated to sports performance; and another drug that looks to be a notch or two above the acai berry.
But drugs make journalists crazy, and the Galea story has already begun to float free of its moorings. Michael Schmidt is smearing anyone in sight. And Bill Plaschke is boasting that he knew all along about Woods, pointing moronically at Tiger's wayward pecker as if it were proof. He asks: "If a guy is a chronic cheater off the course, what kind of leap is required to believe he could be the same sort of cheater on the course?" A huge leap. Several huge leaps, in fact. We have to believe the Times story, for starters, and then we have to believe that the FBI's suspicions aren't entirely unfounded, and that Galea really did provide athletes with illegal drugs, and that one of those athletes was the greatest golfer on the planet, and that those drugs did in fact have a performance-enhancing effect on the greatest golfer on the planet, and that furthermore that effect constituted an intolerable level of synthetic performance-enhancement in a sport whose practitioners can get 10 more yards off the tees merely by changing drivers. That Plaschke and Schmidt and the rest of the gang seem so eager to make each of those leaps isn't surprising. It's open season on Tiger, and the only thing better than moralizing about sex is moralizing about drugs.
Sports Medicine Pioneer Subject of Doping Inquiry [The New York Times]
Records: Assistant stopped at border [ESPN]
The Tiger Woods story grows bigger, and juicier [Los Angeles Times]
What's Woods Doing With HGH Doctor? [FanHouse]