A KEY expert at the AFL's drugs summit said football would solve the drug problem among players only if it dealt with the heavily related alcohol problem.
Associate Professor John Fitzgerald, a drug and alcohol policy researcher at Melbourne University, also told the meeting of club chief executives, AFL boss Andrew Demetriou, league medicos, police and other experts on Wednesday that players who had lives outside football were less prone to abusing alcohol, which was present in the overwhelming majority of drug strikes.
Shortly after Fitzgerald's address, Demetriou acknowledged that the AFL had ''dropped the ball'' on alcohol compared with other social ills, noting that the overwhelming majority of players who had recorded drug strikes under the league's illicit drugs code had been drinking alcohol.
''The data shows in 96 or 97 per cent of our positive tests that alcohol has been at the forefront of that,'' Demetriou said.
''Alcohol has been at the forefront of players being involved in violence or other issues.
''I think we have probably dropped the ball as a code while concentrating on illicit drugs, while concentrating on respect and responsibility and all the things we try and do in these policies.
''This is an area we need to work harder on.''
Fitzgerald, a former acting chief executive of VicHealth, was co-author of a study of alcohol use by AFL players - commissioned by the league - in 2007.
''Given that the vast majority of positive tests involved alcohol, it's logical that if you deal with the alcohol problem, you're going to be able to deal with the drug problem,'' he told the summit.
''If you deal with the alcohol problem, you'll deal with the drug problem. In dealing with the alcohol problem, the most effective way of reducing hazardous use is to give these guys lives outside football.''
Fitzgerald said there were ''concrete ways'' in which this could be done.
His study found that ''outside interests reduced hazardous use'' of alcohol. These external interests were ''clearly a protective factor'' for preventing dangerous use of alcohol.
The AFL is increasingly concerned about what Demetriou called ''work and life balance'' for players, in the knowledge that players have become prone to binge drinking during their end-of-season breaks, and that this, in turn, leads to some use of illicit drugs.
Fitzgerald also suggested that increased testing of players provided only data and not solutions. ''Testing on its own won't provide the solutions … It provides valuable data, but it doesn't provide solutions in of itself.''
Fitzgerald told the meeting that the airline industry, for instance, had spent $30 million on testing for 27 positive tests. Understanding players was more important than just testing them, he said.
''I think the more we learn about players and their lifestyles, and [putting in place] some structures early in their careers, is going to be vastly more helpful than learning about what drugs they're using once they've tested positive,'' he said.