I stumbled across this while looking for something else. Interesting stuff. Don’t know if anyone has any better evidence for EPO-related deaths.
In the wake of previous contributions by scholars like Verner Møller and Paul Dimeo, which have demonstrated the mythical nature of the accounts concerning two famous ‘doping deaths’ (the cyclists Arthur Linton and Knud Enemark Jensen), this article thoroughly examines the existing evidence (both anecdotal and scientific) concerning the much repeated claim that EPO ‘killed’ 18 Dutch and Belgian cyclists in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This examination shows that these claims almost absolutely lack empirical evidence, and that in fact the existing truly experimental and epidemiological research downplays or even rules out the existence of a casual link between EPO intake and sudden death in healthy adults. It is therefore concluded that EPO has been constructed by the expert literature and the lay press as the ‘drug of mass destruction’ of the war on drugs in sport, and that the story about the ‘EPO deaths’ is to be seen as anti-doping propaganda.
A search for journalistic texts reporting on these facts has been conducted using the LexisNexis database and accessing the online archives of some newspapers. Twenty-four news reports have been retrieved,35 in addition to a chapter from the journalistic book by Paul Kimmage. An analysis of these texts reveals an even higher degree of dispersion and imprecision. The number of victims range from ‘half a dozen’ to ‘around 40’ (other figures mentioned: 7, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 24 and 34). The most often quoted countries of origin are again Holland and Belgium, but Spain, Germany and Poland are also mentioned, with many texts simply referring to ‘European’ cyclists. And the time span can be as broad as 1970–1990, or as narrow as 1988–1990.
According to several sources, EPO began to circulate in Europe in 1987,48 when 3 of the victims recorded in Table 1 had already been retired for a long time. This reduces the number of potentially suspicious deaths to 14. The case of Bert Oosterbosch, who had retired in late 1988, the year before his death, should also be withdrawn from the list: if he had taken the drug during his professional career, its alleged deleterious effects would have faded long before his death.49 The list has now been reduced to 13. Four other victims died between October and February in the cycling off-season, when there was no point in charging up with such an expensive, cutting-edge drug.50 Of the remaining 9, 7 were amateur riders, who for the reasons just stated would be very unlikely consumers of the drug.51 This leaves the list with just 2 potentially suspicious riders: 1 low-profile young professional (only 23 when he died) and a cyclo-cross rider, neither of them the kind of usual suspect52 for such a hi-tech practice as EPO doping would have been at the time. These data therefore show little, if any, trace of the ‘about twenty world-class Dutch and Belgian cyclists’ killed by ‘rhEPO-induced erythrocytosis’.53 Of course, all this is not watertight scholarship, but at least it is based on some kind of empirical evidence and rational analysis. Perhaps the scientific literature can provide us with stronger counter-evidence concerning the claimed link between these deaths and EPO doping.
I have reviewed 35 academic texts referring to the alleged deleterious effects of EPO abuse: most of them are supportive of Eichner's contentions, in fact some of them citing Eichner himself as their original source.76 Of these articles/book chapters, 19 fail to provide empirical evidence or to quote any source for most or all of their claims concerning the fatal side-effects of EPO intake. Two of them77 just mention, as their only source, the statements or opinions, lacking empirical evidence, of anti-doping experts such as Eichner, Don Catlin and Robert O. Voy. Eight more articles refer some or all of their claims to other reports that either fail to quote a single source or piece of evidence, do not mention these side-effects, are based on literature reviews (not on original research) or quote some of the aforementioned experts. One article78 provides evidence for a sing le case of an elite cyclist in which thrombosis coincided with an intake of EPO and growth hormone. But the authors fail to provide proof of the causal link between the two, despite claiming that ‘the use of EPO to increase PCV [haematocrit] in athletes suffering from other predisposing factors to thrombosis … could lead to serious side effects’.79 So this leaves the list reduced to eight articles quoting original research and only six directly reporting original research conducted by the authors themselves, one of which is not based on actual experimentation but theoretical modellization.80
This article has shown that the story about the 18 Dutch and Belgian cyclists who allegedly died between 1987 and 1990 due to EPO abuse has no empirical basis. The available evidence rather suggests that this series of deaths has been artificially concocted and even inflated in absolute terms and, most importantly, that it is highly improbable that EPO had anything to do with these cases, principally because there is very little, if any, scientific evidence that EPO causes sudden death. It should therefore be considered more of a myth or an invention than a historical fact. A myth which in the last years has played a central role in the ‘scaremongering tactics’111 of the anti-doping campaigners, who until the early 1990s were rather short of casualties that might be attributed to doping ‘abuse’. In this sense, EPO could be labelled as the drug of mass destruction in the war on doping.