We Need To Do More About Illegal Steroids

In 1994, I wrote an article, “They shoot horses, don’t they? Anabolic steroids and their challenge to law enforcement.” I was involved at the time in an undercover operation, codenamed Equine, and the case had moved into the prosecution phase. Ultimately more than 70 dealers were convicted.
Fourteen years later, the problem not only persists, but has been complicated by the ease in which people can buy illegal steroids on the Internet. These days we still hear too much about athletes using steroids to enhance their performance. Unfortunately, what we hear is only the tip of the iceberg.
That said, we need to continue cracking down on this dangerous drug. We also need tougher penalties. The drug not only poses a health risk, but undercuts the integrity of sports. In 1994 I warned Major League Baseball of steroid use by some high-profile players- a warning that was apparently ignored to MLB’s detriment.
It’s helpful to know the history and nature of anabolic steroids.
Steroids are a synthetic version of the male hormone testosterone. Anabolic refers to a substance that promotes growth. (Although all steroids are not anabolic, for simplicity, the terms will be interchanged.) When taken internally, steroids will, in conjunction with weight training, promote extraordinary weight gain and muscular development.
Steroids have become especially prevalent in football, professional wrestling, track and field, swimming, and bodybuilding. One bodybuilder indicted in Equine admitted, “to appear in the Nationals (the National Bodybuilding Championships) without using steroids would be like competing in the Miss America Contest without makeup.”
Taken over a period of time, steroids can have detrimental effects on the body. Men may suffer from hypertension, sterility, female breast development, premature hair loss, infections, cysts or irreversible heart and/or liver damage. Studies also indicate that steroid use increases the risk of developing cancer and can even result in death. Further, prolonged use of steroids may result in the body discontinuing the natural production of testosterone, a condition that could become permanent.
Because women, by nature, have little testosterone, steroids pose an even greater threat to them. In addition to most of the problems noted above, women develop many masculine traits, such as increased body and facial hair and a deepened voice.
Though athletes may benefit from some aggression, aggressive behavior brought on by steroid use can be difficult to control and can result in unacceptable social behavior that may even be dangerous to the user or others. It has sometimes been referred to as “roid rage.”
Last year, wrestler pro wrestler Chris Benoit strangled his wife, suffocated his 7-year-old son and placed a Bible next to their bodies before hanging himself with a weight-machine pulley. Authorities found anabolic steroids in the house.
During the time when we were preparing to begin Equine, I learned an FBI agent’s son had committed suicide as a result of depression caused by his use and then cycling off steroids.
Recently, a study indicated that steroid use may lead to criminal or violent behavior, especially in 12-to17-year-olds. To boot, in some instances, police officers taking steroids have used excessive force in subduing subjects.
Unfortunately, steroids have been even easier to get since the Equine case. Steroids are readily available via the internet and the predominant source of the active ingredient, the synthetic testosterone, is China .
This scenario raises concerns regarding quality control, contaminants, etc. Often the steroid ingredient is sent from China to another country such as Mexico , where it is bottled, packaged or compressed into pill form for distribution with no accompanying oversight by any regulating agencies.
Even back during Equine , nearly 50 percent of the approximately 10 million dosage units of steroids seized during the course of the investigation was counterfeit, i.e., the purported steroid contained no steroid.
Today most steroids for the human black market are no longer manufactured by legitimate drug companies so the same problems that were associated only with the counterfeit steroids are now prevalent with all steroids.
The illegal sale of anabolic steroids has been a felony under Federal law since 1988. On November 28, 1990, President Bush (the first) signed into law the Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990. Effective February 27, 1991, the law placed 27 anabolic steroids and their derivatives into Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule III drugs, by definition, have the potential for abuse, but less than substances in Schedules I or II, which have a “high potential for abuse.” Abuse of a Schedule III drug may lead to “moderate or low physical dependence.”
Unfortunately, classifying steroids as Schedule III drugs has resulted in light sentencing guidelines, and only a dealer selling massive quantities of steroids gets a sentence beyond nominal incarceration.
This criticism surfaced during the prosecution phase of Equine, and unfortunately, the guidelines have not changed.
They need to.
Aspiring athletes should not have to use steroids to achieve greatness in their sport.. Steroid use perverts the goals of sports and athletic competition. A victory achieved through steroid use is hollow, at best. At worst, the athlete may face prosecution or even death.
I would like to dedicate this article to the late University of Michigan Football Coach Bo Schembechler , who first alerted me to the problem of steroids in athletics and inspired our pursuit of the illicit distribution of steroids.
To contact Greg Stejskal write: gmanstejskal@yahoo.com

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