James Cronin suspended after taking banned substance due to pharmacy 'dispensing error'

The Munster prop has been suspended for one month.
James Cronin suspended after taking banned substance due to pharmacy 'dispensing error'
Munster's James Cronin in action against Racing 92. Photo: INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Munster prop James Cronin has been suspended for one month after taking a banned substance due to a pharmacy “dispensing error”.

Cronin tested positive for two steroids, prednisolone and prednisone, after playing the final half-hour of Munster’s 21-all draw with Racing 92 in Thomond Park last November. He did not have a Therapeutic Use Exemption for either product.

Cronin had been unwell before the game and was prescribed the antibiotic, Amoxicillin, which he had been prescribed previously. The team doctor told Cronin he had been prescribed ‘antibiotics’ and didn’t specify the product's name. Cronin had also used the same pharmacy a number of times previously.

According to a disciplinary decision from European rugby’s governing body, the EPCR, “The pharmacy dispensed medication to him which was intended for another customer.” Cronin instead received Germentin (a trade name for Amoxicillin) and Prednesol, a substance prohibited by the EPCR, which was prescribed for another client of the pharmacy.

Cronin took five Prednesol tablets in a single dose the day before the game, and four more the morning of the match.

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The statement continued: “The judicial officer [Antony Davies] accepted evidence that the banned substances in the player’s sample were due to a dispensing error by the pharmacy and that the anti-doping violation was entirely unintentional.

“Although the judicial officer found that there was no significant fault on behalf of the player, and that there were clear and compelling mitigating factors, he determined that the player had to bear some responsibility for what was in his sample.

“It was therefore decided that Cronin will be ineligible for a one-month period from 15 April 2020 until 16 May 2020.”

He will not miss any games over the inadvertent transgression, as European rugby remains in lockdown due to the coronavirus crisis.

Cronin, who has no previous doping offences to his name, co-operated fully with the investigation, admitted the charge, and accepted the suspension. He submitted a statement from the team doctor, a copy of the prescription from the team doctor which was emailed to the pharmacy, statements from the pharmacy confirming the error, a copy of the pharmacy’s medication dispensing form, and video footage of him collecting the medication the day before the match.

While accepting that Cronin bore no significant fault, the judicial officer noted Cronin could have done more to avoid the violation, by asking his team doctor specifically what he had been prescribed or for a copy of the prescription, by asking why he had been dispensed two sets of medication instead of one, as he had received on previous occasions he was prescribed antibiotics, or by carrying out his own checks online about the product.

“It is clear on these facts that the player cannot establish that he bears no fault or negligence. He bears at least some fault,” noted the judicial officer. “However, EPCR has accepted and I am satisfied that the player can establish that he bears no significant fault or negligence.

I have some sympathy for the player in this case. While the violation could have been avoided had the player (and his team doctor) put better safeguards in place, it is clear that the player’s violation was the result of a very serious (and unexpected) mistake by a pharmacy.

“The player saw his name on the product packaging and understandably assumed that it was the medication prescribed by his team doctor at the same pharmacy previously, without issue. Therefore, it was a careless but understandable mistake.

“I am of the view that the player’s level of fault was low, and so justifies a significant reduction in the period of ineligibility.

“Taking account of the very specific and unusual circumstances of this case, EPCR and I consider that a one-month period of ineligibility is appropriate.”

Cronin has since volunteered to participate in some anti-doping education organised by the EPCR to raise awareness about anti-doping issues with other rugby players, for which he was commended.

The IRFU said they have completed their own review after the incident and concluded that the one-month ban was sufficient “due to the strong mitigating circumstances”. Their player education programmes will be updated “to reflect learnings from this exceptional case”.

Cronin said he was glad to bring an end to a tough period for him personally:

These past few months have been very trying for me and my family and I am glad that this issue has been resolved so that I can focus fully on rugby when it resumes.

“I accept that this is a strict liability offence and that even though the medication taken was due to a very serious and unexpected dispensing error, it has taught me a very valuable lesson that I hope my fellow players and other athletes can also learn from.

“I am confident that my friends, fellow players, the rugby media and rugby public will understand that I never acted with any intent nor in any manner to intentionally compromise EPCR tournament rules.

“I have volunteered to participate in an educational forum to help raise awareness with other rugby union players so as to ensure that my experiences can be avoided by other athletes.

“I wish to thank my solicitor Diane Hallahan and Barrister Meg Burke B.L. and to acknowledge the support of Rugby Players Ireland.”

Munster Rugby CEO Ian Flanagan said, “This has been an extremely challenging time for James and the province, and we are glad it has reached its conclusion. We have treated this matter with the utmost seriousness, and as always Munster Rugby and Irish Rugby are fully supportive of all Sport Ireland, WADA, and World Rugby anti-doping policies.

“In protecting the integrity of our player, the organisation, and the sport, I can assure you that this unintentional anti-doping rule violation is as a result of exceptional circumstances due to a third-party dispensing error by a pharmacy. Clearly the sanction is reflective of the strong mitigating factors in this case, and we look forward to James’ return to action.”

World Rugby, Sport Ireland, and WADA each has the right to appeal.

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