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Rise of the underground steroid laboratories

by / 0 Comments / 02/10/2014

Law regarding steroids in the UK makes these class C drugs legal to posses for personal use without the intent to sell or supply. Until recently, steroids have been relatively easy to purchase and import from a variety of websites, such as buysteroidsuk.com. However, a change in the law, as of  23 April 2012, has made the importation of these drugs illegal. This has effected a large proportion of steroid users who prefer the discrete methods of buying the drugs online rather than liaising with suppliers at the local gym. However, importation of these drugs for personal use remains legal if an individual was to travel to another country and physically import them into the UK. However, this is not a feasible option for many steroid users and so many have turned to obtaining their steroids closer to home.

These ‘tighter laws on steroid imports’ (Davies BBC, 2013) ‘will cause a rise in home produced products by illicitly sourced raw testosterone powders, so there will be a rise in underground products produced in the UK by unlicensed underground labs; this is likely to decrease the quality and increase the risk for the users’ (Chandler, 2012). The implications of this are discussed in the article.

The integrity of these underground labs which wouldn’t have had their products analysed for quality assurance has to be questioned. They are selling steroids to users whilst knowing that they are producing impure substances that people will inject into their bodies (e.g., mixing testosterone powders with other substances to increase profit margins). Therefore many users are  apprehensive about obtaining steroids from underground labs, although as of 23 April for many users there is little alternative.

For a lab to be licensed, lab personnel are required to have undergone appropriate training, including all aspects of steroid production in a sterile working environment to ensure the steroids are safe for use. Many of those setting up underground labs do this by claiming they have a biochemical degree; these individuals wouldn’t have undergone specific training, yet despite this, they continue to produce steroids, knowing that they may make mistakes/be working in unsterile conditions which may lead to the production of impure substances and therefore creating health risks. These labs do not have automated processes; it’s a manual manufacturing process which increases the risk of contamination.  Internet websites provide customers with detailed analysis of steroid types on the market, their properties, how to administer them and possible side effects from their misuse or abuse, enabling buyers to make informed choices regarding the type of steroid to use. Buyers from underground labs aren’t made aware of these factors when buying, thus many users are injecting substances into their body without knowledge of their possible effects. Combined with the fact that many pharmacies supply free needles, it would lead to a higher rate of infections and so there is an even greater case that steroid importation should be legalised using licensed labs, which can educate the user and are likely to minimise problems brought about by injecting an unsterile product.

The majority of problems stem from teenagers taking steroids. During puberty, the body increases testosterone production; taking steroids may cause a hormone imbalance which may affect the individual in the long term in addition to the short term effects such as mood swings and aggressive behaviour, which teenagers are susceptible to anyway. However, for a teenager who wants to look more muscular next month, considerations of what may happen to your body 30 years down the line are not going to be taken into account; thus it could be argued that the government should perhaps put an age restriction on steroid use, rather than restrictions on their importation.

Chandler’s speculations were correct; in the year of the London Olympics  many people have been inspired to take up sport and the consumer wants to see impressive sporting feats from their celebrated athletes. Many see steroids as a means of taking them there –  thus steroid demand has increased, and a year later, this article raises the issues over the increased number of steroid labs in Wales. Restrictions placed on steroid importation are not reducing their use, rather it is increasing demand from within the UK  and has lead to an increase in underground labs in order to supply this demand. Thus it can be argued, if the government is intent on reducing its use, why not make the entire steroid trade illegal in the UK  as it is in the US where steroids are illegal to posses and supply? Why not make the effort to completely shut down online websites that ship steroids into the UK? Although on the other hand, this may lead to an even greater increase in underground labs and an even greater risk associated with their use.

Many users say that the whole stigma associated with steroid use is unjust and that they should not be placed in the same bracket as other drug users. They are not harming others and there haven’t been any significant studies that show they are harming themselves, so they maintain: ‘If it only hurts me, why does society care?’ Society cares simply because using steroids is cheating (http://anabolicsteroids6.weebly.com/ethical- issues.html) although if  used purely for cosmetic reasons and not in sports, can it really be considered as cheating, and if not why should society have a problem?

‘The use of anabolic steroids for cosmetic benefits in society may be regarded as harmless pharmacological manipulation to aid the development of muscles’ (Kicman, A, 2008) in order to boost self-esteem. ‘Many performance enhancing drugs are in fact legal’ (Julian Savulescu, 2013) hence many argue their importation should be legalised to help eliminate the risks of infections due to improper manufacturing practices of unlicensed labs.

However, steroid use isn’t going to die down anytime soon, and the formation of underground labs is going to continue to increase in order to meet demand as the government places restrictions on the steroid trade and as the ‘next generation of performance enhancing drugs emerges; a mixture of bacteria and genes injected into muscles’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-22348906).

Sources:

Jordan Davies, BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-22348906.

Jordan Davies, BBC, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-22348906,

Kicman, A, Pharmacology of anabolic steroids, 2008. Br J Pharmacol, published 26/05/2008. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2439524/ (pubmed).

Martin Chandler, 2012, http://www.injectingadvice.com/v4/index.php/articles/harm-reduction-practice/188-changes-to-steroid-laws.

http://anabolicsteroids6.weebly.com/ethical-issues.html.

Savulescu, J, 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01m5rg5.