Anabolic steroids are synthetic compounds manufactured from testosterone, the male hormone responsible for muscle development. Doctors prescribe steroids to treat certain kinds of medical conditions, but because steroids increase lean muscle mass, athletes and bodybuilders take them in high doses to enhance sports performance and appearance. Steroid abuse can cause serious health problems, so it's against federal law to use them for nonmedical purposes.
Steroids can cause the development of breasts and shrinkage of testicles in men, and in women, excessive hair growth and deepening of the voice. In both sexes, long-term side effects include liver disease, strokes and heart attacks. Steroids have also been known to cause "roid rage," or aggressive, sometimes violent behavior. Depression, insomnia, mood swings and other classic signs of drug dependence often result when a user suddenly stops taking anabolic steroids.
Another side effect of steroid use is jail time. By enacting the Anabolic Steroid Control Acts of 1990 and 2004, Congress made it illegal to use anabolic steroids, designating them as Schedule III substances under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule III drugs are those that present a risk of moderate to low addiction if abused. Simple possession of anabolic steroids without a valid prescription carries a maximum prison sentence of one year and/or a minimum fine of $1,000. Selling anabolic steroids or possessing them with intent to sell carries a maximum five-year prison term and/or a $250,000 fine.
Most, if not all, professional sports leagues prohibit and punish the use of anabolic steroids. The main reasons for the ban are the harmful side effects of steroids, and the belief that users should not be rewarded for breaking the law by gaining a competitive advantage over other athletes. Sports organizations perform urine testing to detect steroid use by players. Penalties for the first positive drug test begin with game suspension, the length of which increases with each subsequent positive test until the player is banned from the professional sport forever.
Unregulated Import and Manufacture
Illicit steroids are smuggled into the United States and sold online or at gyms. These products may be purchased without a prescription. Steroids are also illegally diverted away from pharmacies or manufactured in secret laboratories. Product safety is not at all a concern for underground chemists, as federal agents have seized steroid labs that were extremely unsanitary. Massive amounts of raw materials used to synthesize steroids have been discovered being mixed in bathtubs and bathroom sinks.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse: Anabolic Steroid Abuse
- United States Drug Enforcement Agency: DEA Announces Largest Steroid Enforcement Action in U.S. History
- ESPN.com: Anabolic steroids
- Office of Diversion Control: Anabolic Steroids
- Office of Diversion Control: List of Controlled Substances
- Office of Diversion Control: Rules - 2005
- The Baltimore Sun: Testing policies and penalties for performance-enhancing drugs
- NY Dept. of Health: Anabolic Steroids and Sports: Winning at any Cost
- Photo Credit Visage/Stockbyte/Getty Images
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