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Bulging with risks

Unsupervised steroid use is rising among young men, usually in combination with other drugs of doubtful safety.

June 06, 2005|Jeannine Stein | Times Staff Writer

While much of the national debate over steroids has highlighted their use by baseball and football stars, a new survey suggests that these performance-enhancement drugs may be gaining popularity among ordinary fitness buffs, especially younger males.

The survey found that many of those who use steroids are buying them from illegal sources and that most are taking the drugs without medical supervision.

The information comes from an anonymous national survey of 500 steroid users, the results of which were presented last week at the American College of Sports Medicine's annual meeting in Nashville. Researchers compiled information from questionnaires they posted on several steroid message boards on the Internet, said lead researcher Dr. Nick Evans, an orthopedist at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The survey found that most of the users -- primarily men age 18 to 24 -- inject themselves with the drug, with one in 10 reporting unsafe injection methods such as sharing needles. About 89% said they got steroids from illegal sources, with more than half using bootleg drugs with questionable ingredients. Some 95% of users said they combined steroids with other drugs, including human growth hormones and insulin.

"By and large we found that people are using steroids regularly on an unsupervised basis, they're aware of the dosages and the Internet has become a forum for this," Evans said.

He added, "I think in terms of this study, it's a fraction of what's going on in gyms across the land. There's almost an acceptance of minor side effects for immediate gain. These people are not elite athletes; they're average Joes.

"That's a concern," he says. "Obviously over time steroid users are experimenting and increasing the dose, observing bigger muscles and getting better results as far as they're concerned."

Dr. Linn Goldberg, professor of medicine and head of the health promotion and sports medicine division at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, has seen many nonprofessional athletes and bodybuilders using steroids for various reasons, including developing bigger muscles and garnering respect, in the last 20 years.

"I could see these people having low self-esteem and using them for appearance," Goldberg said. "Those are the people who are often going to be on these websites."

When he would ask steroid users why they stopped taking the drugs, most cited deleterious side effects, including " 'roid rage" and acne. "One said he had to take other drugs to combat the side effects, and he started feeling like he was a drug factory."

Gregory Florez, chief executive of First Fitness Inc. in Salt Lake City, has said his health coaching company received an increasing number of questions from parents concerned about their children's possible use of steroids.

"There is a plethora of new kinds of steroids, and they're much more readily available," he said. "You can go to almost any gym and find one to three people who are peddling steroids or know how to get them."

Florez said steroid users often ignored side effects "because usually they feel the benefits outweigh the risks. But they injure themselves because the joints and muscles are not designed to have that much stress put on them."

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