June 3, 2004 (Washington) -- House lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Thursday to classify the dietary supplement androstenedione and dozens of other anabolic steroid building blocks as controlled substances.
It would restrict the use of androstenedione -- known widely as "andro" -- to patients who obtain a doctor's prescription. The move would allow the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to regulate these types of products as an anabolic steroid under the Controlled Substances Act.
The bill also stiffens federal fines and jail times for anyone who distributes or possesses steroids within 1,000 feet of a gym or other athletic facility.
Androstenedione is a precursor to the male hormone testosterone, which requires a doctor's prescription.
Andro made headlines in 1998 when it was revealed that homerun champ Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals used it as part of his training and strength-building regimen. But researchers have cautioned against the use of the popular supplement. It also causes a host of health problems, including damage to reproductive organs in men and masculinizing effects in women.
"We do not want these harmful substances around our gyms, baseball stadiums, football fields or our running tracks. We do not want our athletes to risk their health to win," says Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee and the bill's chief sponsor.
The Senate has yet to act on the legislation, and until it does, andro and many other steroid precursors will remain technically legal.
The FDA cracked down on 23 known andro manufacturers in March, warning them to stop distributing the chemical or face enforcement actions. Officials said at the time that they were worried by 2002 federal data showing that one in 40 high school seniors had used andro within the last month.
The bill designates more than 55 specific steroid precursors for reclassification as controlled substances. A drug is classified as a controlled substance based upon the substance's medicinal value, harmfulness, and potential for abuse or addiction. But the bill leaves out DHEA, a popular dietary supplement that some athletes take to enhance performance or promote growth. DHEA is also a steroid precursor.
That prompted criticism from some lawmakers, who maintained that it should be included in the bill. DHEA is banned by both the NCAA and the World Anti-Doping Agency.
"By specifically exempting DHEA, we are sending a signal to the American public that DHEA is safe. This would be the wrong message," says Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who supported the bill.
Three lawmakers, including Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), voted against the measure. "I've always said the federal government taxes and regulates too much, and this falls in to the 'regulates' part," Flake tells WebMD.