An Italian doctor, Enrico Lazzaro, has come under investigation for the unlawful practice of a doping technique, ozone therapy, as reported Friday in the Italian Gazzetta dello Sport paper. Ozone therapy, also known as autohemotherapy, enriches oxygen in the blood and may therefore improve athletic performance.
In ozone therapy, a small amount of blood, approximately 200cc, is removed from the body, run through a machine in which it is enriched with ozone and then returned to the body of the patient. Given how the treatment was performed by Dr. Lazzaro, officials said patients were at significant risk to their health. Potential complications include embolism.
Dr. Lazzaro was served a court order relating to an investigation conducted by prosecutor Benedetto Roberti. He is prohibited from visiting his practice in Montegrotto after three months of wiretapping and video surveillance. Previously he was linked to a doping raid at the Giro d'Italia in 2001.
The current case began when the father of Andrea Moletta, then a Gerolsteiner rider and teammate of Davide Rebellin, was stopped on May 20, 2008. Officials found a syringe of Lutrelef hidden in a tube of toothpaste. The stopped man indicated to authorities that it had come from Dr. Lazzaro.
Rebellin later tested positive for EPO-CERA. His case is still pending.
During the investigation, officials recorded Dr. Lazzaro on video giving ozone therapy to a 15-year-old female swimmer in the presence of her parents, who are now also under investigation. In Italy, the practice of ozone therapy is prohibited in private clinics.
Ozone therapy may lead to better performance without risk of getting caught in doping controls because hematocrit and hemoglobin levels remain constant. Ozone therapy in this instance was accompanied by intravenous iron injections to support erythropoiesis (red blood cell production). More red blood cells means an increased ability to carry oxygen in the bloodstream.
Ozone therapy avoids some of the problems of the blood doping of past cases such as Operacion Puerto in which Spanish Eufemiano Fuentes had to deal with the logistical problems such as storing and transporting bags of blood for the athletes receiving the autologous blood transfusions.
Like Dr. Fuentes, Dr. Lazzaro reportedly also adopted code names like initials or made-up names, for his patients in order to protect their privacy. Therefore investigators have not been able to completely identify all the clients in Lazzaro's records seized during the investigation.
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