A huge variety of such stimulants are readily available, giving athletes an unfair advantage over opponents who don't take them, particularly in events that call for speed and/or endurance.
Doping in sports is not limited to a single continent, sadly. Thailand has had its fair share of athletes who have tested positive for banned substances. In the past decade, however, the number of new cases has decreased, said Dr Hilary Meechai Inwood, chief medical officer at the Sports Authority of Thailand's Sports Medicine Division. He attributes this drop to a greater effort by national teams and their coaches to comply with the international anti-doping code, with members undergoing regular blood tests to ensure that they stay "clean" both in and out of competition.
Dr Inwood points out that Thai national athletes are under the close supervision of coaches who monitor their behaviour, teach them to be vigilant about what they consume and supply them with a list of banned substances to cross-check against if in doubt.
For these reasons he believes that our sportsmen are less likely to resort to prohibited chemical aids than some of their rivals at the regional level.
Individuals from the provinces freshly picked for national squads are sometimes found to have taken banned substances, he said, largely due to their ignorance of doping regulations or the fact that many of these drugs can be bought over the counter without any difficulty. Dr Inwood would like to see it being made mandatory for pharmaceutical companies to print warnings on products containing chemical substances which are banned in certain sports.
"Armstrong's case has raised questions about why drugs weren't found in his system during the testing carried out when he won each of his seven Tour de France titles," remarked Dr Inwood, who works closely with the Thai officials tasked with regulating the use of performance-enhancing drugs.
"Doping in sports is very much a cat-and-mouse game, so we in the field of sport science have to keep conducting research into the new drugs and methods used today in order to beat substance abusers at their own game. From what I understand from reading the press statement, Armstrong is said to have taken EPO [erythropoietin] which increases the production of red blood cells. This enables users to boost their stamina, giving them an unfair advantage during long races. It is a well-known fact that prohibited substances and methods are used in various sports today, varying in degree, of course, depending on which discipline you're talking about."
Many people got their first inkling of the magnitude of the problem, he continued, when Ben Johnson had the gold medal he'd won at the 1988 Seoul Olympics withdrawn when he was found to have taken stanozolol, a banned steroid.
Dr Inwood noted that international sports federations, led by the International Olympic Committee itself, have, for over half a century now, been trying to curtail the spread of doping in professional sports. But their efforts have had little effect, unfortunately, as new, more powerful substances, undetectable by current testing protocols, are abused by sports personalities, while ever more sophisticated distribution networks have evolved to evade detection.
Apart from consuming or trafficking in banned substances, an athlete can also violate anti-doping regulations by refusing to undergo a drug test or by declining to provide officials with details of his or her whereabouts or past movements, Dr Inwood said, going on to explain that athletes are randomly tested for drugs before, during and after competitions and that targeted testing, specified for questionable athletes or sporting events, is also used.
Certain drugs are prohibited, according to Dr Inwood, either because they damage health, have harmful side-effects, enhance performance during competition or because their use is not in keeping with the spirit of sportsmanship (a clause which, he readily acknowledges, is rather vaguely defined and difficult to interpret).
He feels that the problem of doping among both amateur and professional athletes should be prioritised not just because users enjoy an unfair competitive advantage over their opponents but also because of the numerous health hazards associated with consumption of these substances. Long-term use of anabolic steroids, which boost the body's bulk, is ultimately detrimental for the heart, he said. Other serious side-effects of steroid use include liver-function abnormalities, liver and kidney tumours, endocrine and reproductive dysfunction, cardiac and psychiatric problems.
''One's athletic performance can be [legally] enhanced using various diets, training routines and hard work. But as the prize money and endorsement rewards increase so, too, do the science and abuse of performance-enhancing techniques.
''I believe that through educational programmes that highlight the ill-effects of doping we can teach athletes that while substance abuse might give them momentary fame and fortune, it will also very likely shorten their life span or make them prone to all sorts of ailments at an unusually young age. Sporting technology has advanced to the stage that athletes who are prepared to work hard can win tournaments without having to resort to dope.''
Dr Inwood said the soon-to-be-formed Doping Control Agency of Thailand (DCAT) should play a pivotal role in addressing this pressing issue in Thai sports head on.
He went on to explain the role that the new government body will fill: ''This agency will assume the responsibilities of the [current] National Anti-Doping Agency.
''According to the World Anti-Doping Code (2009), DCAT will be responsible for testing national athletes in and out of competition, as well as athletes from other countries competing within our borders; adjudicating anti-doping rule violations; and running anti-doping education campaigns.
''By law this body will have to be fully funded and supported.
''This means we will finally be able to implement our education and testing programmes and achieve their full potential with the help of all the ministries concerned.
''It will also mean that a larger audience, especially the younger generation, will become aware of the ill-effects that doping can have on their health and on their sporting careers.''