Meldonium was placed on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s banned list for 2016 and a number of athletes have already tested positive for it, including Maria Sharapova.
The research was carried out on behalf of the European Olympic Committees (EOC) and contributed to WADA’s decision to ban the use of meldonium in competitive sport.
The findings were based on information volunteered by athletes and medical teams as well as anti-doping tests given at the European Games last June.
Thirteen medallists were found to have been taking meldonium and the drug was detected in athletes competing in 15 of the 21 sports.
Sixty-six urine samples given during the European Games tested positive for meldonium but only 23 athletes declared using the drug, even though it was perfectly legal.
Meanwhile, only two national Olympic committees declared they were importing meldonium into Azerbaijan. Canoeing and kayaking produced the highest number of positive tests for meldonium, with 15 of the 48 athletes tested having it in their system.
The figure of 490 was arrived at by applying the percentage of athletes tested who had taken meldonium to the athlete body as a whole. The authors of the report admit this is likely to be an overestimate as meldonium was only licenced for use in seven of the 21 competing countries.
But the report concludes: “These findings highlight the excessive and inappropriate use and prescribing of this prescription drug in a generally healthy athlete population.”
The report also flags up meldonium was added to the WADA monitoring programme in 2015 after anecdotal reports of use by athletes during the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Patrick Hickey, the president of the EOC, said: “The EOC has a zero tolerance policy on doping and we take every opportunity we can to strike a blow in the war on drugs. Baku 2015 was the inaugural edition of the European Games, but we knew our anti-doping programme had to be of the highest standard from the outset.”