AOC bans Stilnox, warns of caffeine use

By Angela Habashy
Australia's athletes will be banned from using prescription sedatives during the London Olympics

The Australian Olympic Committee has banned athletes using strong prescription sedatives such as Stilnox with AOC president John Coates warning that associated caffeine use can lead to a "vicious cycle" that needs to be addressed.

The ban for the London Games follows revelations by retired swimmer Grant Hackett that he was heavily reliant on sleeping pills at the end of his illustrious career.

The drug was used to help swimmers have a good night's rest while competing under hectic schedules.

Coates, who said he was shocked by Hackett's admission, then asked AOC secretary general Craig Phillips to review the medical manual and, acting on the advice of team medical director Dr Peter Baquie, decided to implement the ban.

"Grant told me that he took the drug into the last Games (in Beijing in 2008) ... and he said `John there was widespread use of it'," Coates revealed on Tuesday.

"I do not know the extent of its use in other sports and we are not going to conduct some sort of witch hunt over this.

"But we think it's clear enough with all of the evidence now about the dangers of the drug in terms of addiction and hallucinations and dependence that justify the stand we've taken."

Coates said the AOC will also focus on emphasising the practice guidelines in respect to caffeine, which, when used excessively, can lead to sleeplessness and the subsequent use of sedatives.

While caffeine has come off the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) prohibited list in the past few years, Coates says the AOC believes there are consequential problems with its use and will be ensuring athletes are very well briefed on them.

"We are very worried about the vicious cycle of athletes taking caffeine as a performance enhancer and needing to take a drug such as Stilnox to get to sleep," he said.

"So what we've decided to do is better emphasise those risks in our team medical manual.

"And all of this information will be conveyed to our doctors and is being done so today.

"But then when the teams come into the Olympic village we have briefing sessions for them and again, involving our team doctors, it will be absolutely emphasised.

"The bigger question of whether WADA should prohibit it again is something for WADA."

Under the revised medical manual a new section dealing with "sleep and relaxation strategies" will be included and officials will be able to search athletes' rooms if they are suspected of using prescription medication such as such as Stilnox, Mogadon and Rohypnol.

"But entering a room is only something we'll do on reasonable suspicion," Coates emphasised.

"I wouldn't like to pre-empt what (chef de mission) Nick Green would decide to do if he did find a blatant disregard to these rules.

"But, yes he's got that ability (to expel athletes)."

The federal government has backed the AOC's decision.

"It's motivated by the welfare of athletes and I support that decision," Sport Minister Kate Lundy told reporters in Canberra.