Earlier this month, the Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it had busted 16 underground labs and seized 134,000 Raw Steroid Powder and pills, 8,200 liters of injectable steroid liquid (that’s 140 kegs worth), and 1,400 pounds in the raw powder that steroids are manufactured. In Arizona alone, four labs and 150,000 doses of all types were taken by DEA agents within an undercover operation that spanned 20 states and four foreign countries.
There are, clearly, a lot of steroids out in the world. Investigators suspect you will find hundreds more labs churning out performance-enhancing drugs. In line with the DEA, the majority of the materials to create steroids isn’t in the U.S. – it’s in China. As large as it had been, the DEA inquiry provides a view from the smallest of keyholes on this illicit business.
One reasonable inference from the volume of steroids seized might be: there has to be a heck of a great deal of athletes who are doping. And that’s true.
This month, the British Parliament released a previously unpublished study through the World Anti-Doping Agency that used anonymous surveys to estimate the prevalence of doping at some recent competitions. It estimated that between 29 and 34 percent of your athletes on the 2011 world championships in track and field in Daegu, South Korea used performance-enhancing drugs that season. As many as one half of the competitors with the 2011 Pan-Arab Games in Doha, Qatar had recently juiced, the research found. (I was at those Pan-Arab Games, and privy for the barely noted reality that nine gold medals were stripped prior to the event even ended.)
Amazingly enough, world-class athletes are merely the fine layer of frost atop the iceberg’s tip in terms of the steroid economy.
To illustrate, and talking about ice, take Iceland. Included in this recent operation, a lab was busted there. Iceland sent five athletes total, all skiers, to the last Olympics. (Compare that to nine people that were arrested with the steroid lab.) It’s unlikely that an underground steroid economy in Iceland subsists on elite athletes alone. So who is driving this tremendous market?
One solution is non-elite athletes. In many years of reporting on performance-enhancing drugs, I’ve frequently been asked why athletes in smaller sports or facing lower stakes would dope, given that there’s little cash in it to them.
My answer: people like being efficient at sports, and anyone who has ever scheduled their life around training for a sport, regardless of how big or small, would never have to ask that question.
My alma mater, Columbia University, launched a steroid probe into the football team back in 1988, as soon as the team had not won a game in 5 years. Two players admitted to steroid use included in that internal investigation.
Over a decade later, as i had been a Columbia student-athlete, two students were busted for selling steroids on campus, then one claimed he sold to a athlete.
This is a university that provides no athletic scholarships and whose greatest sports successes (post-Lou Gehrig) came in the pool, on the track, as well as in the fencing hall. I happen to know about these incidents only because I went there. Yet still, my reporting indicates there are nowhere near enough sub-elite athletes to make up the booming trade in illegal steroids. So, again, who may be driving this market?
In my observation, the primary customers for what’s being churned out from the illegal labs the DEA took down are gym-goers who wish to get stronger and appear different, supplemented by people in professions where physical strength is prized, like law enforcement officers and soldiers.
For a 2008 Sports Illustrated article on steroids that I co-wrote with L. Jon Wertheim, I spent several days in England with a man named Tony Fitton. Despite without having a university degree, from the 1980s Fitton was given a faculty position at Auburn University, in the National Strength Research Center.
Fitton was already well-versed in steroid use. Years earlier, he had disrupted research around the training effects of steroids when he began acquiring the treatment medication using their company participants.
At Auburn, Fitton’s job consisted mostly of helping legendary strongman Bill Kazmaier train. “I didn’t actually have a bloody typewriter,” Fitton explained to me. He was, though, a rather brilliant kitchen chemist. He scoured pharmacology and medical texts, often experimenting on himself. He once observed that a blood pressure level drug in trials was resulting in a peculiar side effect – it made patients’ eyebrows grow together. Fitton figured when the drug could regrow hair, he could sell it to steroid users to assist using the bald patches that sometimes develop from Oral Anabolic Steroid use. Today, you realize that drug as minoxidil, the active component in Rogaine.
Fitton had also been providing steroids to elite athletes. Throughout reporting that story, several NFL players admitted they’d been his clients – nevertheless i was amazed at what I saw as i got my on the job his old business ledger, as well as other documents associated with his dealings. The ledger recounted regarding a year of his sales, and even though college football and NFL players, power lifters, professional wrestlers and bodybuilders were amongst the buyers, the ledger was filled up with a wide smattering of consumers, from gym owners to policemen and soldiers to droves of guys who just desired to have bigger muscles.
Years later, once i met by using a convicted steroid dealer in Florida who’d been selling to your chiropractor dealing with the Washington Capitals, he explained that law enforcement officers and military personnel were steady clients. And, when he also sold to a few competitive athletes, he was quoted saying that teenagers who planned to change their physique comprised the majority of the demand. He, himself, began taking steroids after admiring Arnold Schwarzenegger carrying a tree trunk inside the 1985 film Commando.
Per year before that movie hit the theaters, Fitton was caught by a customs agent bringing steroids over the border from Mexico, and became the initial person being federally prosecuted for steroid smuggling. Steroids weren’t even controlled substances yet, however they did require a prescription, and that he had greater than 2,000 boxes amount of the steroid Dianabol in the car.
In 1997, he was arrested again – he informed me his supply was coming via commercial airline pilots who gathered steroids in countries where they may be purchased legally. By that time, Fitton had been charged with steroid distribution three times, along with jumped bail twice. He was sentenced to four months in prison, but his punishment was delayed, since a legal health supplement company was pleased to employ him and had arranged an opportunity for him to advise the Green Bay Packers on strength training. The Packers declined to comment on why the team would allow Fitton any connection with their players.
Fitton, who was ultimately deported, may appear as an odd hire to get a supplement company, but the supplement industry has a record of overlap with all the steroid world. Patrick Arnold, the chemist who created designer steroids for BALCO, was better known in the workout world to have made muscle-building supplements, including androstenedione, the substance that first started performance-enhancing drug trouble for Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire when a reporter spotted it in his locker.
During the time, it had been legally available non-prescription, and after it was actually mentioned in relation to McGwire in the news in 1998, sales reportedly exploded by one thousandPercent, thanks to people in your house who wanted to be as muscly as Big Mac.
Pick-up any muscle mag at the supermarket, and you’ll get feelings of the target market. Although many famous magazines are barely more substantial than pamphlets these days, Muscular Development, as an example, may still stop a door.
Past issues in the magazine have featured Q&A’s through which a specialist will offer specific “how to” guidance on dissolving steroids for injection, or how long particular dosages will be effective, and how to limit the possibility of liver damage. Much of the magazine is filled with advertisements for health supplements which are clearly attempting to evoke steroid use.
An advertisement to get a website called legalsteroids.com shows products using nicknames of traditional steroids – “D-Bol” and “Winni-V” (Dianabol and Winstrol) – however with slightly altered chemical formulas in the familiar substances. Somatropin is a pharmaceutical term for human human growth hormone; legalsteroids.com will sell you what it calls Somatroph HC. I asked an internet based customer satisfaction associated with the site exactly how the company might make “legal steroids’’ and then he said: “we’ve been able to take the effective parts of the illegal steroids making it legal.’’ I’ve asked a business spokeswoman how, exactly, this is accomplished but have not heard back.
It remains unclear what’s in these sorts of products. Some supplements might actually be designer steroids. Supplement makers want their products and services to operate, and also the marketplace is lightly regulated, so steroids have already been seen to appear in over the counter products.
The ads often depict muscle-bound men, and sometimes show photos of extremely fit and scantily clad women. A concern might feature an array of lifestyle advice to men, from your bizarre – don’t tattoo genitals since a medical report found (surprise!) there may be some unpleasant repercussions – to ads with all the familiar tone of women’s magazine advice columns. One example gives four rules: “#1 – Respect Gym Etiquette;” “#2 – Train Hard & Listen Greater Than You Talk;” #3 – Enable The Women Come To You (Animal Instinct 101);” and “#4 – Don’t Be Caught With the Wrong Supplements.”
The information is tailored for men who would like to be stronger, feel more energetic and better about themselves in addition to turn the heads of ladies as well as other men. That, naturally, is a far larger area of the male population than the amount of athletes yearning for Olympic gold.
Also, it is a market segment that may be going to grow because the Baby Boomers age. The volume of men with their 40s who got prescriptions for testosterone more than quadrupled between 2001 and 2011, as outlined by data authored by the Journal in the American Medical Association. And guess what’s often cheaper and easier to get dexmpky84 prescribed, pharmaceutical grade testosterone? Chemical analogs of testosterone – that’s what steroids are – that someone sells in the black market or markets as a nutritional supplement. In the course of my reporting about this subject, I’ve bought both testosterone and illicit steroids sold as supplements. The latter was quicker and cheaper to have.
Law enforcement agents and oral steroids I’ve spoken to over time say there’s no lead to sight on the burgeoning market for steroids. There may be tons of money to be made, legal risks are minimal – steroids aren’t exactly DEA’s main priority – and there’s no shortage of folks that desire to appear like the statuesque models they see inside the magazines.