Former Leigh player discusses widespread substance abuse in rugby league

A former Super League player has lifted the lid on the rugby league drug abuse scale after being given a retroactive suspension from UK Anti-Doping – claiming you were ‘abnormal’ if you didn’t use recreational or performance-enhancing drugs during his time in sports.

Jamie Acton appeared at the top level of the professional game for Leigh Centurions, starting his career in the prestigious Wigan Warriors youth line-up.

He has now retired from the sport to pursue other opportunities, but revealed this week how he has been banned after a sample from eight years ago was back tested. UKAD described the case as the first of its kind, with adverse findings discovered after reanalysis of a stored sample.

Acton has previously admitted to taking drugs during his playing career, saying the RFL had asked him to remove a social media post disclosing his substance abuse allegation that the governing body suggested he was discrediting the sport.

But Acton refused and has now gone a step further by sharing another video on his Instagram profile explaining how ubiquitous drugs are in the sport.

“I made a video before talking about all the drugs I used during my rugby career and how it negatively impacted my life for various reasons,” he said.

“It was causing a lot of mental health issues and it took me a long time to get over it. I got a call after I posted that video from the RFL and they said to remove it because I put the sport in disrepute bring.

“It’s a shame because I love rugby league, and it has given me a lot in my life. I would never want to speak badly of the game, but like any governing body there are elements that they don’t have right. player wellbeing and mental health there is a huge area for improvement that we can make.

“This was emphasized by their response to me, trying to demonize it by having me remove the video, showing how far they will go not to reveal the reality of the situation, which is that unfortunately rugby players use drugs: socially and performance enhancing. You are probably considered abnormal in the rugby world if you have not taken any drugs, neither social nor performance enhancing.”

Acton now says that in light of that video, an earlier sample he provided to the governing body during his time in the professional game was tested for GHRP6, a type of growth hormone for which no relevant science was available at the time to test for.

“It was like a cat-and-mouse game,” he admitted. “A few players were banned for that drug, and I dropped out after we released the science to test it.

Fast forward eight years, coincidentally they went back to test me on this drug that people were using at the time and I was banned. I think I’m the first retired rugby player ever to be banned, and I think that’s the farthest they’ve ever gone to ban a player. I think they’re trying to show you shouldn’t do drugs.’

He has now been given a two-year suspension from all sports after the December 2014 sample showed a positive result for GHPR6.

“As advances in technology enable us to better detect banned substances, sample reanalysis is an essential part of our testing strategy,” said Pat Myhill, Acting Chief Executive Officer of UKAD.

“This case shows that we will catch up with athletes who mistakenly believe they can escape detection. We keep many samples from a variety of sports in our long-term storage and regularly perform this type of analysis.”

Acton insists his priority now is to share his substance abuse experiences so that young players don’t follow the same path.

“The communication is not there to talk about how that affects your mental health,” he said. “I think it’s important for ex-players and current players to talk about their own experiences and let younger players learn from our mistakes. If I had my time again I wouldn’t do it and as people I turn to looked up at the sport told me it was a bad idea and how it was affecting them negatively, i could have learned lessons on their behalf.

“Their response to this mechanism is to silence me, and they want to alienate me and say I’m wrong. Yes, 100% I’m wrong, that’s why I made a video saying I’m very much drugs and I shouldn’t have done it. It’s important to get that message out to try and change the culture of turning a blind eye to your friends and colleagues in the rugby world.”

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