Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control
July 13, 2004
“The Abuse of Anabolic Steroids and Their Precursors by Adolescent Amateur Athletes”
Chairman Grassley, Co-Chairman Biden and distinguished members of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control, on behalf of Administrator Karen Tandy, I appreciate your invitation to testify today on the importance of fighting the growing abuse of steroids in this country.
The issue of steroid trafficking and abuse continues to receive national and international attention in the context of professional sports, as well as the upcoming Olympic Games. The importance of stopping steroid abuse extends far beyond the baseball diamond, football field or running track. Our focus in this area is the health and future of our children. Abuse of anabolic steroids among America’s youth has reached dangerous levels, and it has placed our children at increased risk of heart disease, liver cancer, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, depression, stunted growth, and eating disorders, not to mention increased episodes of hostility and aggression.
Anabolic androgenic steroids are synthetic chemicals based on the structure and pharmacology of testosterone originally developed in the 1930’s to help rebuild body tissue and prevent breakdown of tissue in individuals suffering from debilitating diseases. They promote the growth of skeletal muscle and the development of male sexual characteristics, in addition to other effects. Their popularity with athletes exists due to the muscle development and physical performance enhancements they provide. Unfortunately, this popularity has filtered down to our nation’s teenagers and young athletes, who are lured by easy shortcuts to greater athletic prowess and more muscular physiques.
Steroid Abuse by Adolescents and Amateur Athletes
Steroid abuse was once viewed as a problem associated only with bodybuilders and professional athletes. Though these segments of the population continue to experience steroid abuse, use among young Americans has now reached an alarming level. The 2003 Monitoring the Future Study conducted by the University of Michigan indicates that approximately 3.5 percent of American high school students have used illegal anabolic steroids at least once by grade 12. In that same study, an incredible 45 percent of all 12th graders did not believe taking steroids posed a great risk.
This report came on the heels of earlier studies, including the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) report of 1999, which stated that more than a half million 8th and 10th grade students where using anabolic steroids. A Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey conducted by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated that in 2001, five percent of all high school students reported use of steroids pills/injections without a physician prescription during their lifetimes.
Compounding the dangerous misconception among many young people that steroid use is harmless is the high-profile use of steroids among professional athletes, who our nation’s youth often idolize and seek to emulate. Sports figures have been revered in the United States for generations, and many are viewed as national heroes. Consequently, sports figures serve as prominent role models for many of our nation’s younger citizens. The abuse of steroids by those in the athletic spotlight has not gone unnoticed by our country’s youth and young athletes. In an effort to address the problem of steroid abuse, President Bush, in his State of the Union Address, stressed to players, coaches, team owners and union representatives “to take the lead, to send the right signal, to get tough, and to get rid of steroids now.”
The negative effects of long term anabolic steroid use are well documented. They include damage to the liver, kidney, heart, and sexual organs. Their use can also prevent children from reaching their full height. Moreover, abuse often elevates cholesterol and causes cardiovascular weakening, combined with hypertension. And because steroids are commonly injected, needle sharing can transmit blood born diseases such as HIV and AIDS. Steroids use can also cause uncontrolled outbursts of anger, frustration or combativeness resulting in wanton acts of violence. These outbursts are commonly referred to as “roid rage.” Steroid abusers may also become addicted to the drugs, as evidenced by their continued use of the substances, in spite of the physical and psychological effects they may be experiencing.
The Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990
Despite these clear health risks, the rapid evolution of new steroids has made it difficult for law enforcement to keep up, because each specific chemical formulation is required to be considered as a separate drug. In its initial attempt to regulate steroid abuse, Congress passed the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990 (ASCA), which scheduled anabolic steroids as a class of drugs and specifically listed 27 as controlled substances. In addition, Congress anticipated that future steroids would ultimately infiltrate the anabolic steroid black-market and crafted a four-part definition that the DEA could use to administratively classify new steroids as Schedule III anabolic steroids. All four of the following questions needed to be answered:
The four-part test was first considered by the DEA in 1999, when it determined that the substance androstenedione met the first three criteria required under the 1990 legislation, but has been unable to make a finding regarding the fourth criteria, due to a lack of accepted methodology available to validate the final requirement for muscle growth. This meant that Congress had provided the DEA with the blueprint for scheduling steroids, but the scientific community had yet to develop a study that accurately quantified the promotion of muscle growth. This major stumbling block provided a legal loophole for traffickers of anabolic steroids to continue marketing their dangerous drugs as dietary supplements.
Consequently, the DEA has had to initiate and fund studies to develop animal models that could quantify the effects of steroids on muscle. For example, the DEA is currently co-sponsoring a three year study in New York City using the guinea pig to evaluate the effects of steroids on skeletal muscle growth. Other participating agencies include the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and several branches of the National Institutes of Health, including the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). The first phase has been completed, and the second phase is scheduled for completion in September 2004. This model will then be used to evaluate the effects of skeletal muscular growth from two substances: testosterone precursors and nandrolone precursors. Both of these steroids are now openly sold in dietary supplement products. The DEA is also funding a study in Seattle, Washington, using an immature rat as a model. In conjunction with the New York study, the development of skeletal muscular growth using steroids currently sold in dietary supplements is being examined. We anticipate this study will be completed by October 2004.
These two studies have proven both costly and time consuming. By contrast, the amount of research and time required to introduce a new steroid into the dietary supplement market is minimal. The end result has been an increase in the number of steroids available in dietary supplement products. Again, the ongoing requirement that the DEA must first scientifically validate muscle growth is a significant impediment to effective regulatory oversight of these steroids. This means they continue to enter the dietary supplement market and continue to be legally purchased by America’s youth, athletes, bodybuilders and other ill informed individuals who abuse anabolic steroids.
The DEA supports S.2195, sponsored by Senators Biden and Hatch, to combat steroid trafficking and the resulting abuse by our country’s youth. The bill provides DEA with two additional tools to shut down the steroid trade. First, it gives us clear authority to conduct law enforcement operations against trafficking of steroid precursors, as well as other steroids such as the designer steroid THG. Until now, these steroids have been able to masquerade as harmless dietary supplements. This bill will finally call these steroids what they are–dangerous drugs. Second, this legislation removes the enormous stumbling block to taking these steroids off the shelf, by removing the requirement for repetitive, lengthy and expensive testing to prove muscle growth. It also will provide a foundation to jumpstart our future efforts by adding more than two dozen known dangerous steroids to the list of controlled substances. That list will expand our ability to evaluate new steroids that may be developed.
DEA’s Efforts Against Steroid Trafficking and Abuse
Anabolic steroids are uncontrolled in many countries, which results in a virtual unlimited supply of steroids world-wide. Anabolic steroids are frequently smuggled into the United States from Mexico by U.S. citizens who travel there to purchase them without a prescription. In addition, criminal organizations of Russian, Romanian, and Greek nationals are significant traffickers of steroids, and are responsible for substantial shipments of steroids entering the United States. Domestically, illicit steroids are often sold at gymnasiums and bodybuilding/weightlifting competitions, where sellers obtained them through theft and fraudulent prescriptions. The Internet has also become an avenue to obtain steroids, which are often times advertised through bodybuilding and fitness websites and message boards.
Overall, the DEA has increased its enforcement efforts against anabolic steroids. In 2001, we initiated 52 steroid cases. Last year, 87 investigations were launched. In one example, during October 2002, the DEA arrested eight individuals involved in the largest ketamine manufacturing and trafficking organization in North America. Included in the arrests were the owner of Ttokkyo Laboratorios and their sole Mexican distributor arrested in Panama. At the time, Ttokkyo was the largest manufacturer of anabolic steroids in Mexico and supplier to major U.S. distributors. This international ketamine and anabolic steroid trafficking organization in Mexico smuggled thousands of vials of ketamine and steroids to California, New York, New Jersey, and Florida. Among the Schedule III steroids being smuggled were methandienone, nandrolone, testerone, and oxandrolone.
Since initiating our Demand Reduction Program in 1986, the DEA has worked with coaches across the country to increase their understanding of the problems associated illegal drugs and steroid abuse in sports. Through the DEA’s Demand Reduction Program, our Demand Reduction Coordinators (DRCs) in our field divisions also work with youth, athletes and parents to educate and heighten their awareness about the abuse of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs in sports. These efforts have included presentations to university athletic teams, Sports and Drug Awareness Programs. In many of these programs, the DEA utilizes coaches and professional athletes to assist in informing and educating the public.
The DEA has also developed literature on the dangers of steroid abuse and has made this information available through our website. We are also working to include information on steroid abuse in our upcoming museum exhibit that will be featured in New York City. The DEA continues to seek methods to educate the public about these dangerous drugs, as we believe that education is the most important aspect in curtailing abuse.
The abuse of steroids has become a national concern. The idolization of sports heroes and the enticement of improved athletic performance have led many of our nation’s youth to turn to steroids. In order to effectively battle these dangerous drugs, the DEA has continued to conduct investigations targeting significant traffickers of steroids, has continued to work to inform and educate the public on the dangers of steroids and has continued to initiate and fund studies in accordance with the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for your recognition of this important issue and the opportunity to testify here today. I will be happy to answer any questions you may have.