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Page last updated at 05:53 GMT, Sunday, 7 February 2010

Young men taking risks with steroids

Bob Howard
The Donal MacIntyre Show, BBC Radio 5 live

muscles
Home Office figures suggest 23,000 young men have used steroids

"My mate was taking steroids and he was getting bigger and bigger, and then another friend started them and I felt sort of left out. That's why I started."

Jack was 18 when he first took steroids and conscious of the perceived benefits of honing a chiselled body.

"Women generally like defined, big blokes. It's like going back to caveman times - I'm the king of the castle.

"You're at a gym, you're like 'aah, I'm lifting more than him, he's nothing'."

The latest figures from the British Crime Survey, published by the Home Office, estimate 23,000 young men between the ages of 16 and 24 have used steroids.

For many years steroids were associated with competitive body builders and the odd professional sporting scandal, but some drug charity workers say the age profile is gradually becoming younger.

I was getting anger problems; I would suddenly lash out at my friends if they just said the wrong thing to me
Jack, former steroid user

Roy Jones works for the heath care provider Turning Point, which tackles drug misuse.

Its Smart Muscle programme offers support to steroid users.

He says more and more young men like Jack are experimenting with steroids.

"There are needle exchanges around the country which are seeing more steroid users than any other drug user combined coming to their services so it is definitely on the up," he said.

Vulnerable

The law says it is illegal to sell steroids in the UK, but not against the law to buy them.

Many users purchase their steroids online, including Jack.

He said: "I went on the site, ordered them, really easy, shocking really. All you had to do was tick a box that you were over 18.

"You could be eight years old and tick that box as long as you can read and write and understand what's going on.

Jack
Jack started taking steroids to help him achieve his dream of a ripped body

"Six days later they were delivered to my door."

Anabolic steroids mimic the effects of the natural male hormone testosterone. They increase protein synthesis within cells, which in turn helps to build muscle tissue.

But using steroids, especially when the body is still developing, can prove very harmful.

Mr Jones says boys in their late teens are especially vulnerable to damaging themselves.

"Testosterone as you go through puberty starts to slow down the growth of your long bones," he said.

"So if you're still growing and you feel like you want to grow a bit more, taking synthetic testosterone is not a good idea."

Receding hair

But Jack liked the results he was seeing so much he quickly began to take double the recommended dosage.

It was then that he started to suffer physical and psychological side-effects.

"I was getting anger problems; I would suddenly lash out at my friends if they just said the wrong thing to me.

"Before I had really thick hair and whilst I was on them I noticed my hair went thinner and thinner. I'm receding and I'm only 20.

"Then I ended up developing breast tissue."

After an emergency trip to hospital, for an incident unrelated to his steroid use, Jack finally had to admit taking the drugs to a concerned doctor who noticed he had a damaged liver.

This shocked his mother, Sandra, who was completely unaware her son was taking steroids.

"I thought his mood-swings were typical teenage adolescent behaviour.

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"Obviously I was aware he was getting bigger and bigger but he was, to be fair, working hard at the gym as well."

"It hadn't rung alarm bells, but perhaps it should have with me."

Jack's parents gave him an ultimatum to give up his steroid use or leave home.

Jack abided by his parents wishes and now trains without the help of steroids.

'Horrible time'

The parents of 17-year-old Matthew Dear were also unaware that their son had started taking steroids.

Matthew had always dreamt of joining the Royal Marines and last March he started taking a course of steroids to boost his body size.

Matthew Dear
Matthew Dear collapsed and died weeks after he started taking steroids

"Matthew was such a healthy living kid, he didn't even like taking paracetamol if he had a cold," said Matthew's father, Chris.

"To find out that he had joined the gym and bought some steroids off of another 17-year-old kid at the gym, we were gobsmacked."

It only came to his attention after Matthew had begun to increase his dose from one tablet per day, to four a day and began to feel ill.

"He wasn't able to walk properly, he didn't know where he was, he was very confused. We were worried so we called an ambulance," said Matthew's mother, Tina.

It was only when he confessed to the ambulance crew that he had been taking steroids that Matthew's parents found out that he had been taking the drugs.

"He seemed to start going downhill very quickly, that was a horrible, horrible time," said Mrs. Dear

"They did some more tests and then they said the brain had crushed the stem and he wasn't going to come round from that."

On the April 20, 2009 Matthew died - four weeks after he started taking steroids.

Matthew's case is exceptionally rare and, while the initial post-mortem report cited anabolic steroids as one of the causes of his death, medical opinion is split.

Matthew's parents are awaiting a coroner's inquest to determine exactly how he died.


Listen to the full report on the Donal MacIntyre programme on BBC 5 live on Sunday, 7 February 2010 at 1930 GMT or download the free podcast

Contact the programme by email: donal@bbc.co.uk



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