Maria Sharapova is facing scandal after testing positive for mildronate, a medication that was recently banned in professional tennis. She’s is certainly in trouble, but the reaction to her failed drug test has been a little bit more nuanced than normal, because she was taking mildronate for a decade before it was banned. Mildronate is currently used as a heart medication but its history is weird, to say the least.
Meldonium, as it was originally called, was originally developed by Ivar Kalvins and his team at the Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis for use by Soviet soldiers fighting at high altitude in Afghanistan. In an interview with Wired, the 69-year-old chemist said, “If the soldiers are to operate in the mountains, there’s a lack of oxygen… The way to protect against damage is by using mildronate.”
The drug was apparently used widely during the 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghan War—the Latvian company Grendiks, which developed it, shipped hundreds of tons to the Soviet army. Mildronate helped Soviet soldiers carry heavy equipment and travel long distances at high altitudes, tasks which would have been difficult without the drug.
Mildronate was banned from professional tennis in 2015 when the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) found a high number of athletes testing positive for it. Its history high-performance warfare suggests why. But Kalvins himself thinks the ban is unfair. The sportsmen should be able to protect their health,” he says. “We are living in an era of evidence-based medicine, so there are not any other new data supporting the ban.”