Qualitative and Semiquantitative Analysis of Doping Products Seized at the Swiss Border

Background: Substances developed for therapeutic use are also known to be misused by athletes as doping agents and, outside of regulated sport, for image-enhancement. This has generated a market for counterfeit doping substances. Counterfeit doping agents may be of poor pharmaceutical quality and therefore constitute health risks to consumers. Objectives: This study aims to investigate the pharmaceutical quality of 1,190 doping products seized at the Swiss border. Methods: Swiss customs authorities seize incoming shipments potentially containing doping agents. Qualitative and semiquantitative analyses were performed in order to test for prohibited doping substances. The main analytical methods utilized for characterizing confiscated compounds were liquid chromatography-high resolution mass spectrometry, polyacrylamide gel electrophoresis with subsequent in-gel tryptic digestion and identification of peptidic compounds using nanoliquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry, and electrochemiluminescence immuno assay. Results: For 889 (75%) of the analyzed products, the label suggested the content of anabolic agents, for 146 samples (12%) peptide hormones or growth factors, and for 113 items (9%) antiestrogens, aromatase inhibitors or other metabolic modulators. For the majority of the investigated products, the pharmaceutical quality was an unsatisfactory standard: nonapproved substances were detected and less than 20% of the products contained the claimed substance in the respective amount. Conclusion: A comprehensive sample of confiscated doping products was analyzed, allowing for monitoring of developments regarding the use of doping substances in Switzerland and for anticipating future trends and challenges in sports drug testing. An alarming number of tested products was of substandard pharmaceutical quality.