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Illicit Drugs Frequently Asked Questions

What are illicit drugs?
Why have a separate illicit drugs programme when you already have an anti-doping programme?
How do you test for illicit drugs?
Why test hair?
Who gets tested and when?
What happens if i don’t provide a sample when asked?
What happens if I test positive? Do I get banned?
Can I challenge the test result?
What happens if I test positive a second time?
If I test positive, or admit to using an illicit drug, can I also be charged by the police for use of an illegal drug?
How can I get help if I have a problem with illicit drugs?
If I get treatment through the RFU programme, how much will it cost me?

Q: What are illicit drugs?
A: In general, any drug which is determined illegal by the Home Office under the Misuse of Drugs Act. There are three different classes of illegal drugs – A, B and C depending on how harmful they are. The RFU’s Illicit Drugs policy and testing of players focuses on the most commonly used illicit drugs – cocaine, cannabis, amphetamines and MDMA (ecstasy). See Schedule 1 of the Illicit Drugs Policy for the confirmed list.

Q: Why have a separate illicit drugs programme when you already have an anti-doping programme?
A: Although these illicit drugs are on the Prohibited List for anti-doping tests they are only banned under the anti-doping rules “in-competition” (i.e. for tests done immediately after a match). Some of these drugs will only show up in urine if they are taken close to the time of sample collection. A player could have a problem with regular drug use but if he abstains for as little as 72 hours prior to each match the risk of testing positive for some of these drugs can be minimal. Under the RFU Illicit Drugs policy these drugs are prohibited at all times and tests can be undertaken at any time. It is also more cost-effective for to test specifically for the four classes of illicit drugs. If a full anti-doping analysis was undertaken the programme costs would be considerably higher. The RFU already runs a comprehensive out-of-competition anti-doping programme.

Q: How do you test for illicit drugs?
A: This will be usually done through the collection of urine samples by properly trained sample collection officers from the RFU appointed testing agent. The whole process is very much the same as the doping control test process – selection of the player, provision of the sample, sealing of the sample, laboratory analysis and results reporting. Other types of sample collection can be required, most notably hair which, following a change in policy from 1 September 2010, can lead to a violation or “strike”.

Q: Why test hair?
A: Analysis of hair samples gives a much longer detection period for illicit drug use. Drugs such as cocaine which pass through urine quite quickly can still be detected in hair several months later.

Following consultation with the Union’s testing agent regarding the validity and reliability of hair tests for work-place related testing, and also feedback from Premiership Rugby and the RPA that most players who expressed a view do want hair tests to be a full part of the testing regime, it was decided that a positive hair test should be treated the same as a positive urine test. 

Q: Who gets tested and when?
A: The policy applies to all players aged 18 and over so any player could be tested however the focus of the policy and programmes are on Aviva Premiership players (and EPS players at non-Premiership clubs). The aim is that each player (18 and over) in the Premiership will be tested at least once per season. Most selections will be random although players can be targeted e.g. if they have not previously been selected. Tests will usually happen unannounced at team training but can also take place elsewhere. The likelihood is that testing will happen early in the week.

Q: What happens if i don’t provide a sample when asked?
A: If you are notified by one of the testing agent’s sample collection officers that you have been selected for a test you must comply. As with doping control tests, any refusal or failure to provide a sample is likely to be treated as if you had tested positive. This also applies if you tamper with any part of the collection process.

Q: What happens if I test positive? Do I get banned?
A: If it is your first positive test under the illicit drugs programme then this will be reported to you and your club doctor by the RFU Programme Medical Director but there will be a high level of confidentiality. These two people will conduct an initial confidential review with you then you will be referred for an in-depth assessment by a consultant specialising in illicit drug use. He will assess the extent of the problem (abuse or dependency), assess the likelihood of further illicit drug use and recommend what counselling and treatment is required. No-one else need be told. It is treated as a confidential health-related issue with the focus firmly on how to help you deal with and be treated for your drug use. You will not be suspended, as long as you comply with the process of assessment and treatment. However you will be fined - £5,000 if you are a senior professional or £1,000 for others. See Schedule 3 of the Policy for a flowchart on the process for a first violation.

Q: Can I challenge the test result?
A: Your sample will have been divided into 2 parts – A and B and you are entitled to have your B sample tested. However if it confirms the A sample result, and as long as there have been no irregularities, the process will continue. You do also have the right of appeal in accordance with the RFU Appeal Regulations.

Q: What happens if I test positive a second time?
A: The process is similar to that for the first positive but this time you will also be referred to the RFU Disciplinary Panel and you are likely to receive a suspension which will be made public. However you do still get the chance of further treatment.

Q: If I test positive, or admit to using an illicit drug, can I also be charged by the police for use of an illegal drug?
A: Evidence of personal use through a programme such as this would not normally in itself lead to criminal proceedings.

Q: How can I get help if I have a problem with illicit drugs?
A: The policy is geared primarily to helping players in the Aviva Premiership (or EPS players at non-premiership clubs) who might have a problem but there are links to some general drugs helplines on the RFU website. Access to help and treatment is not limited to players who test positive. Aviva Premiership clubs should all have a person, ideally the club doctor, designated to receive enquiries from players in confidence. Players can also make a confidential admission of use by contacting the RFU Programme Medical Director Dr Simon Kemp (simonkemp@rfu.com or 07971 595702) who will then lead you through the same processes for expert assessment and access to treatment as for a positive test but you do not get fined and a first admission does not count as “strike” on your record.

Q: If I get treatment through the RFU programme, how much will it cost me?
A: The costs of any assessment and the agreed therapy/counselling and/or in patient admission to address your illicit drug use will be met by the RFU. You will only need to meet your own personal costs e.g. travel to see the consultant for your assessment or to the treatment venue for therapy/counselling.

 

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