Should Labs Freeze Ballplayers' Samples for Future Steroid Tests?

Sep 11, 2013

Instead of finishing out the baseball season, Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is volunteering – and apologizing to fans.

The Brewers' Ryan Braun has been suspended this season for using performance-enhancing drugs.
Credit Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

He’s one of a dozen players on suspension for ties to a clinic that allegedly provided performance-enhancing drugs.  But, none of the players actually tested positive for illegal drug use, except Braun in an earlier incident dismissed on a chain of custody technicality.

Dr. Ruben Baler says that’s because it’s simply hard to catch users of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. Baler is the main Health Scientist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Baler says as quickly as labs develop new tests, illegitimate chemists create drugs to evade them.

"It really comes down to a cat-and-mouse game when illegitimate chemists can develop very minor modifications that can bypass some detection tests," he says. "It's very easy to use products that will become invisible, for a while , to a test."

He says there's a surprisingly simple idea helping labs win that race - by freezing biological samples, until future tests are developed to detect new PEDs.

Lake Effect reached out to Major League Baseball to find out if it freezes samples. Hypothetically, doing so could enable Ryan Braun and other suspended players to test positive for steroid use down the line.

MLB Spokesperson Mike Teevan says in an email:

“Our collection and laboratory procedures do not include procedures for freezing samples. Any changes to our program must be collectively bargained between MLB and the MLB Players Association.”

He says recent changes include, “unprecedented steps in American professional sports, such as blood testing for human Growth Hormone (hGH), a longitudinal profiling program tracking T/E ratios and IRMS analysis.”

A press release in which the league explains its testing procedures can be read here.