What is Ostarine? A look at the performance-enhancing drug that banned Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins for six weeks

After testing positive for Ostarine, Arizona Cardinals WR DeAndre Hopkins will return from a six-game suspension Thursday against the New Orleans Saints. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – The Arizona Cardinals starting wide receivers have been on a conveyor belt this season with one of quarterback Kyler Murray’s targets exiting just as another enters.

The result has been a lack of continuity that has caused the Cardinals’ offense to sputter to a 2-4 start to the season.

On Thursday, five-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins returns to Arizona’s receiving corps when the Cardinals host the New Orleans Saints. Hopkins missed the club’s first six games while serving a suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy, testing positive for Ostarine, which the NFL categorizes as an anabolic agent.


According to one researcher who patented Ostarine, it is a substance that often shows up as a “contaminant” in other products, leading to positive test results for some athletes.

“Unfortunately, there are a number of athletes that are being exposed that way, in addition to those athletes that are unfortunately buying it from illicit sources and purposely using it for their enhancement,” Dr. James Dalton, who now is an executive vice president and provost at the University of Alabama, told Cronkite News.

But just as Hopkins arrives, the club’s leading receiver this season, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, is disappearing down that conveyor belt after suffering a foot injury against Seattle, again delaying the dynamic pairing at wide receiver that the Cardinals envisioned when they traded a first-round pick to Baltimore as part of a deal for Brown in the offseason.

The team had hoped Brown could pick up the slack while Hopkins served his suspension, then join forces beginning this week.

While Hopkins has maintained that he did not knowingly take any performance-enhancing drugs, his presence will enhance a struggling Cardinals offense.

“(Hopkins) definitely brings a dynamic that any team would want to have,” said Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury. “We have a true No. 1 like that, a playmaker that defenses have to be aware of each and every snap. It makes a difference in scheme, play-calling, things of that nature.”

The Cardinals also acquired 6-foot-3 Robbie Anderson via trade from the Carolina Panthers, giving Murray an additional big target. A.J. Green is the only Cardinals’ receiver taller than 6-feet to record a catch this season, often forcing Murray to create magic with his athleticism.

Brown, who leads the team in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns through the first six games, reportedly suffered a non-surgical foot fracture against the Seattle Seahawks, and Kingsbury announced he will be out for at least a month after Brown received a second opinion on the injury.

The Cardinals sent the 23rd pick of the 2022 NFL Draft to the Ravens for Brown after Hopkins tested positive in November for trace amounts of Ostarine.

According to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), Ostarine is the trademarked name for a selective androgen receptor modulator (SARM). It is an investigational drug that can increase muscle growth. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says it may also increase the risk of heart attack or stroke and cause life-threatening reactions, including liver damage.

During former Suns center JaVale McGee’s charity softball game in June, Hopkins said again that he did not knowingly consume the substance, and the amount detected was smaller than what would be expected if he had knowingly taken it to improve performance. From the NFL’s perspective, the amount didn’t matter and hit Hopkins with the six-game suspension.

“There was 0.1% found in my system,” Hopkins said. “If you know what that is, you know it’s contamination, not something taken directly. I don’t take any supplements. I’ve never taken supplements. I barely take vitamins.

“So for something like that to happen to me, obviously I was shocked but my team and I, we’re still trying to figure out what’s going on.”

Researchers study and test investigational drugs, such as Ostarine, in clinical trials to determine if the drugs are safe and effective, how they might work against diseases and what the potential benefits and risks are from using them.

The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the NCAA have banned Ostarine.

“Because these drugs aren’t approved for clinical use, the short- and long-term side effects of these drugs are still being investigated,” said Dr. Matthew Fedoruk, the USADA’s chief science officer. “Drugs are metabolized in our liver, so one of the concerns with the development of any drug, especially anabolic agents, is the effects it has on systems that are related to metabolism and excretion of those compounds.”

Originally named Enobosarm by GTx Incorporated, Dalton and other researchers identified Ostarine compounds in 1997, and he said they invented the drug in 2004, then patented it. Small dosages were used in animal and human clinical trials years later. They label Ostarine as a SARM because it has high efficacy and potency to build muscles but less success in other areas.

The researchers designed Ostarine to antagonize the effects of testosterone on receptors as a nonsteroidal molecule that acts as an inhibitor that can treat prostate cancer and a stimulator that can increase the amount of muscle, helping to treat “muscle wasting” – the loss of muscle tissue due to disease.

“When we started developing Ostarine, we started developing it to try to treat the muscle wasting that occurs in cancer,” Dalton said. “If you look at some of the original work we’ve done with Ostarine, it’s all in cancer patients as a way to increase their muscle strength and physical function.”

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Today, Veru, an oncology biopharmaceutical company, owns the rights to Ostarine and markets it as a hormonal treatment for breast cancer therapy. Yet, as Dalton and his team published results from early clinical trials showing an increase in lean body mass and physical function, athletes and bodybuilders noticed and purchased dietary supplements with Ostarine that exceed clinical trial dosages.

As a result, governing bodies took action even against athletes who unknowingly consumed it.

“It’s not a labeled ingredient, but it’s ending up in those as a contaminant … from the manufacturing process that the supplement or electrolyte company was using,” Dalton said.

The NFL suspended former 49ers wide receiver Victor Bolden Jr. in 2018 and Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Taylor Lewan in 2019, both for four games, after they tested positive for Ostarine. Bolden sued Rogue Nutrition, a dietary supplement company, claiming the company’s creatine contained the banned substance without labeling it. Lewan took to social media to state that he never “knowingly” took the supplement.

In college football, the NCAA suspended three Clemson players – defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence, tight end Braden Galloway and offensive lineman Zach Giella – from the College Football Playoff in 2019 for testing positive for the drug. And the NCAA ruled Arizona guard Allonzo Trier ineligible twice, causing him to miss 19 games in the 2016-17 season and the final two months of the 2017-18 season. The USADA also suspended five UFC fighters for the drug.

“The 100% way to reduce your risk in that area is (to) choose not to use those products, because not all of them are evaluated and analyzed for banned substances,” Fedoruk said of the supplements. “Many athletes choose to use dietary supplements, so our recommendation to athletes is (to) use products that have third-party certification because that’s one way to reduce your risk, although that doesn’t eliminate your risks completely.”

Hopkins, who has not commented further on how the drug entered his body since the summer, noted that even items such as shampoo can contain Ostarine. However, Fedoruk and Dalton said they are only aware of the drug showing up in dietary supplements, such as electrolytes and vitamins.

Hopkins said he is mindful about what he consumes because he is a naturopathic person with a holistic approach to his diet. A naturopathic lifestyle treats the person’s mind, body and spirit and strives to heal the source of an illness. Naturopathy uses natural remedies to help the body heal itself and embraces many therapies, such as herbs, massage, supplements, acupuncture, exercise and nutritional counseling.

“What we’re trying to do is remove these obstacles to cure, so remove the inflammatory foods, remove toxic environmental pollutants, help heal unhealed trauma and then introduce a natural therapy that stimulates that self-healing process, so your body and mind feel better,” said Dr. Natalie Ham of the Nourish Natural Medical Centers. “The goal here is not just to make people not sick. It’s for people to be the best versions of themselves.”

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Derrian Carter expects to graduate in December 2022 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Carter, who has interned with Tuscaloosa News and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, was a research associate for the Knight-Cronkite News Lab, a fellow for Front Office Sports and a copy editor and reporter for the Poynter Institute.