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Commonwealth Games 2002

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Thursday, 11 April, 2002, 12:31 GMT 13:31 UK
Steroid misuse widespread
Lifting weights
Many are regulars in the gym
Doctors believe that the abuse of anabolic steroids by gym users amounts to a public health risk.

A report from the British Medical Association to be published on Thursday is expected to say that up to a third of GPs encounter patients who have used steroids but who have little knowledge of the damage they may be doing to their health.

Side effects of anabolic steroids
Facial hair in women
Breast development in men
Shrunken testicles
Mood swings
Anabolic steroids have been used to cheat in professional sport for years and they now appear to be widespread in gyms for amateur fitness fanatics and bodybuilders.

One survey found that one in 10 gym enthusiasts admitted taking steroids to boost their training capacity and body appearance. It is estimated that there could be 150,000 people who regularly use the drugs.

Different types of steroids are frequently used combined together in huge doses with no regard to the long-term effects.

Anabolic steroids are prescription drugs that mimic the effects of the male sex hormone testosterone and help convert protein into muscle.

Steroid abuse has been linked to cardiovascular disease, liver damage, infertility and mental illness.

Doctors say the use of these drugs is unlikely to be a passing trend.

People tend to take the drugs for the first time when they are in their early twenties.

Dubious sources

The BMA is particularly concerned that steroids are easily available on the internet and on the black market.

The quality and safety of black market products is questionable and cases of poisoning, infection and mental illness have been reported.

We're not moralising here but pointing out that these drugs are dangerous

Dr Vivienne Nathanson
Steroids are Class 'C' Controlled drugs and available on a prescription-only basis - obtaining them in any other way is illegal.

Further evidence of the widespread nature of the problem comes from needle exchange schemes set up to try to reduce the risk that drug abusers will contract HIV.

In some cities, the biggest users of the scheme are those injecting anabolic steroids.

The report found that top class sportspeople were more likely to use a wider range of performance enhancing drugs.

Dr Vivienne Nathanson, BMA head of Ethics and Science, said: "What is really worrying is that people who use drugs in sport are taking potentially life-threatening drugs and think it's worth it.

"Surely no accolade is worth your health or indeed life?

"This report will hopefully alert doctors to problems their patients may be having with performance enhancing drugs.

"We're not moralising here but pointing out that these drugs are dangerous and it is better to treat health problems associated with them sooner rather than later."

Professor John Henry, an accident and emergency consultant, said: "We see younger people who come in who have been taking steroids. They have high blood pressure, raised blood fats and their arteries are furring up.

"These people very often have blood vessels like a 70-year-old smoker."

Harm reduction

The BMA says that preventative strategies need to be put in place to reduce harm among those who insist on using the drugs.

Doctors need to be trained in the subject, possibly while they are still medical students.

And GPs and hospitals need to be made aware of local harm reduction or outreach services.

In addition, public education programmes are needed to inform people of the dangers.

The BMA also says that current anti-doping policies have not led to a reduction in the number of sports people using drugs.

Instead of focusing entirely on sanctions, they should be revamped to include advice on harm reduction and rehabilitation, it said.

Other recommendations include:

  • Sportsmen and women should be encouraged to have long-term medical monitoring whether or not they use drugs
  • Tighter controls brought in to restrict the supply of drugs such as human growth hormones, which can cause skeletal deformities and enlarged organs if overused
  • A drugs passport scheme should be introduced containing an athlete's testing record. Participation would be dependent on this.
The BBC's Karen Allen
"Anabolic steroids are prescription drugs"
Dr Vivian Nathanson, BMA
"Sporting bodies must see what they can do"
See also:

22 Nov 00 | Health
Addicted to bodybuilding
15 Nov 01 | Health
Weight training too far
05 Feb 02 | Health
Internet steroid sales warning
05 Apr 01 | Health
Exercise on prescription
05 Aug 99 | Medical notes
Nandrolone and anabolic steroids
26 Jan 99 | Medical notes
Doping: Banned substances
31 Jan 00 | Medical notes
Body Dysmorphic Disorder
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