USADA officially finds Islam Makhachev “without fault” in positive drug test for meldonium

By Jamie Penick, MMATorch Editor-in-Chief

USADA has issued a statement clarifying the reinstatement of UFC lightweight Islam Makhachev after a positive drug test for meldonium, the Russian heart medication which has been the subject of significant press in 2016.

According to the USADA release, which has found Makhachev without fault for the drug test failure, Makhachev’s explanation for the drug being in his system – along with new recommendations from the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) on how to handle positive meldonium tests – was adequate to issue no punishment.

Read the USADA statement:

“USADA announced today that UFC athlete Islam Makhachev, of Dagestan, Russia, has tested positive for a prohibited substance, which was determined to have been ingested by him without fault or negligence.

Makhachev, 24, tested positive for meldonium as the result of an out-of-competition urine sample he provided on April 4, 2016. Meldonium is a non-specified substance that was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency (“WADA”) Prohibited List in 2016. It is in the category of Hormone and Metabolic Modulators and is now prohibited at all times under the UFC Anti-Doping Policy, which has adopted the WADA Prohibited List.

During USADA’s investigation of the case, it was discovered that Makhachev underwent a radiofrequency ablation procedure for frequent ventricular arrhythmia in December of 2014. In November of 2015, Makhachev’s physician recommended that Makhachev incorporate meldonium, a non-prescription medication, into his follow-up treatment plan and as a preventative measure against a potential relapse. Makhachev then used meldonium for four weeks, from late November to late December 2015. USADA confirmed that Makhachev discontinued use of the substance prior to January 1, 2016, because he was aware that the substance would be added to the WADA Prohibited List and banned under the UFC Anti-Doping Program.

After a thorough review of the case, USADA concluded that the extremely low meldonium concentration in the athlete’s urine sample, combined with the athlete’s explanation of use, was consistent with ingestion prior to the substance being officially prohibited on January 1, 2016. Based on the latest guidance offered by WADA on June 30, 2016, for cases involving meldonium, Makhachev will not face a period of ineligibility for his positive test.”

Makhachev was pulled from a scheduled bout earlier this year after the positive drug test, but he’ll now be clear to return as soon as he’s ready and the UFC can book him in a fight.

Penick’s Analysis: With the science still out on meldonium, and Makhachev offering up a reasonable explanation, they made the right move here. USADA continues to show leniency for fighters offering up plausible explanations for drug test failures, something we haven’t often seen from commissions when fighters attempt to fight findings in a drug test, but as they won’t be the final authority in all cases we’re going to have some issues of disparate treatment in the future. Most notably will be what happens with Jon Jones and Brock Lesnar should either of them get some type of reduction from USADA but not from the Nevada Athletic Commission. That process is yet to play out, but those examples of tests failed in competition or close to an event could bring very different suspensions from the regulatory body and the testing agency.

[Photo (c) Troy Taormina via USA Today Sports]

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