July 13, 2004 -- Experts and athletes are warning that steroid use remains rampant among young people in the U.S. -- and not just those who want to be better athletes.
Doping experts and physicians tell lawmakers that more and more teens are turning to steroids and over-the-counter steroid "precursors" hoping that the drugs will make them look more shapely.
"I'll tell you right now, this stuff is now creeping down into our grade schools," says Terry Madden, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the group that tests Olympic and other international athletes for banned substances.
Up to 4% of U.S. teens have used steroids in the last year, according to the 2002 federal Monitoring the Future drug use survey. Most of those users are thought to be male athletes looking to add muscle mass, increase weight, or improve performance.
Not Just for Football
But Don H. Catlin, MD, of the UCLA Olympic Analytical Laboratory, says more and more teenage girls are taking steroids and precursors like androstenedione to improve their looks.
"They just want to be buff. They want to look better," he tells members of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control on Capitol Hill.
Anabolic steroids are available with a doctor's prescription. But when used in excess or over too long a time period, they can cause a variety of adverse health effects. Men can experience breast enlargement, shrunken testes and loss of function, and aggressive mood swings while on the drugs, while women can grow excess hair and experience a deepening voice, abnormal menstrual periods, and enlargement of the clitoris.
Athletes Get Easy Access
Meanwhile, athletes continue to use steroids in large numbers, despite the well-publicized negative health risks, lawmakers were told. One player for a major NCAA Division I football team says drug use is so widespread that many athletes resort to using them just to stay competitive.
Many college athletes will use steroids just to survive or to make an impact," says 'John Doe,' a player who testified behind a screen with his voice altered to avoid being identified. "They're extremely available. You don't have to look hard to find them."
According to Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), one need not look further than the Internet. Grassley says his staff uncovered more than a dozen examples of steroids, needles, and syringes for sale on the popular auction site Ebay.
Steroids and precursors continue to scandalize Olympic and professional sports in the U.S. Five U.S. track athletes are facing arbitration hearings after testing positive for doping, while sprinter Marion Jones struggles to gain a place on the team bound for Athens amid rumors that she has used doping drugs.
Federal regulators have begun to crack down on mostly legal steroid precursors available in many local nutrition stores. The FDA in March warned 23 makers of androstenedione -- also known as "andro" -- to pull the substance off the market or face enforcement actions.
Then in June, the House of Representatives passed a bill making andro and dozens of other steroid precursors controlled substances, meaning that a doctor's prescription would be required to obtain them.
The Senate may soon consider it's own version of the bill, though disagreements over whether the FDA should collect data on adverse health events related to the supplements continues to hold up its passage.
"We're running out of time," says Sen. Joseph Biden (D-Del.) who says he wants to pass the bill before Congress ends its session in October.