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Flood of drugs fuelling pursuit of body beautiful

- Featured Image

Steroids, peptides and other performance and image-enhancing drugs are being detected at the border in record amounts, underlining fears that many young people are putting their health at risk in the pursuit of idealised body types.

Indicating massive growth in the trade, more than 10,350 shipments of anabolic androgenic steroids, beta-2-agonists, peptides and other hormones were intercepted by customs and border agents last financial year – a 19 per cent jump from a year earlier and a huge increase from around 1000 interceptions a decade earlier, according to an Australian Crime Commission report.

As investigations continue into the use of supplements at Australian Rules and rugby league football clubs, information in the Illicit Drug Data Report 2012-13 suggests the market for performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDs) is growing fast and goes far beyond professional athletes.

There was a 36 per cent jump in the number of steroids seizures in 2012-13 to 331, and arrests of both suppliers and users surged 30 per cent to 661 people.

The growing popularity of steroids, peptides, clenbuterol and other performance and image enhancing drugs was highlighted by an Australian Needle and Syringe Program Survey of 2400 people conducted last year.

The Survey found 74 per cent of those who started injecting illicit substances in the previous three years had sought out steroids and other performance and image enhancing compounds, up from just 27 per cent a decade earlier.

By comparison, the proportion of new users reporting a preference for methamphetamines plunged from around 50 per cent in 2006 to just 11 per cent last year.

The increased popularity of performance and image enhancing drugs is being fuelled, in part, by its ready availability.

The Crime Commission said the uncontrolled production and trafficking of such substances in some parts of the world meant there was a virtually unlimited supply available online.

“Due to the varying legal status of PIEDs internationally, producers can manufacture and stockpile PIEDs in countries where they are unregulated, and utilise online websites to reach the global market,” it said.

This is borne out by data showing that the vast majority (88 per cent) of performance and image enhancing drugs detected coming into the country were being imported through the postal system, compared with 7 per cent coming in as air cargo and less than 5 per cent being carried in by plane passengers or air crew.

The AMA has for several years raised concerns that people, particularly young men, are putting their health at risk by taking steroids and other PIEDs in trying to achieve an idealised body shape.

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton said the evidence showed a disturbing trend among young people to pursue some idealised image of physical perfection.

AMA Vice President and Chair of the Public Health and Child & Youth Health Committee, Professor Geoffrey Dobb, said using PIEDs could have serious health consequences, and there were particular concerns about the composition and safety of hormones and supplements bought online or obtained illicitly.

“Hormones may be requested from medical practitioners but should, of course, only be prescribed when clinically indicated,” Professor Dobb said. “Much more often, hormones and supplements are obtained at gyms or over the internet. Anything from these sources is dubious in terms of both content and safety. For example, Dinitrophenol, which is promoted as a fat loss supplement, has caused severe illness and death.”

Problems associated with the use of steroids, peptides and other PIEDs include extreme mood swings can occur, possibly resulting in paranoid jealousy, extreme irritability, delusions and impaired judgement, Professor Dobb said.

The physical consequences of steroid abuse for men include kidney impairment or failure, liver damage, cardio vascular problems, and the commonly reported testicular atrophy, reduced fertility, gynaecomastia and an increased risk of prostate cancer. For adolescent male users, additional effects may include stunted growth and accelerated puberty.

In its Position Statement Body Image and Health, updated in 2009, the AMA called for action to address the issue of unhealthy body image, including a code for the media industry around the portrayal of body images and role models and the establishment of a national network of researchers, educators, policymakers and industry representatives to coordinate practices addressing the incidence of unhealthy body image.

Professor Dobb said his Committee was likely to review the Position Statement to expand reference to issues of male body image.

Adrian Rollins