The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC)’s ban on certain hypnotic medications, including Stilnox (zolpidem; brand name Ambien in the United States), remains in place for next year’s Olympic Games in Rio and will come into effect earlier.

The AOC Executive has decided the ban will now apply from the date an athlete is selected on the 2016 Australian Olympic Team and includes:

  • Nitrazepam (including but not restricted to the brand name “Mogadon”)
  • Flunitrazepam (including but not restricted to the brand name “Rohypnol”)
  • Zolpidem (including but not restricted to the brand name “Stilnox”)

The AOC introduced the ban on some hypnotic medications in July 2012 three weeks before the start of the London Games.

“First and foremost we banned Stilnox before the London Games because of serious concerns for the welfare of the athletes. We felt then we had an obligation to protect our athletes from serious harm and that remains our priority today,” says Fiona de Jong, AOC CEO, in a release. “By introducing the ban from the date of selection we are giving any athlete taking hypnotic medications time to wean themselves off the drug long before they enter the Village in RIO.”

In 2012 the AOC was criticized for not giving athletes time to stop using the medications. Opponents argued the ban would disrupt their Olympic preparation particularly their sleep patterns.

“The three-week window prior to London caused issues within the Team but this time there is no excuse” de Jong says.

The ban was introduced following revelations from swimmer Grant Hackett who said he had become addicted to Stilnox, the AOC states.

Following the London Olympics it was revealed that members of the Australian men’s 100m freestyle relay team had taken Stilnox at the Team pre-Games training camp in Manchester, England, after the AOC ban was announced.

A subsequent investigation by Bret Walker SC revealed the swimmers were unsure when the prohibition commenced. At that time Stilnox was prescribed for one of the swimmers and this necessitated a “weaning off” period.

“The prohibition now commences from the date of selection of each athlete. This will vary depending on the sport, but there should be no weaning off period immediately prior to the Games. Instead we are recommending athletes adopt healthy sleep strategies, relaxation and meditation techniques, and other drug-free approaches in the lead up to RIO” de Jong says.

Under the 2016 Team Agreement, which all athletes and officials must sign, Team members are prohibited from using, possessing, or trafficking a drug of addiction, poison, or restricted substance in contravention of the Poisons and Therapeutic Goods Act 1966 (NSW).

The Agreement again gives the AOC the right to search bags or other possessions Team Members may bring into the Olympic Village.

It includes the right to seize any suspicious substance they might find and have that substance analyzed and investigated.

Failure to comply will be regarded as a breach of the Team Agreement and could lead to termination as a member of the 2016 Australian Olympic Team Member and being ineligible for selection on future Australian Olympic Teams.