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  Inside Out North West: Week Monday February 2, 2004

STEROIDS - A DANGEROUS NEW TREND

Person injecting steroids
The 'body beautiful' image is driving many to steroids

Inside Out reveals that image-conscious males in the North West are turning to drugs in the hope of perfect bodies. They’re using anabolic steroids - and it’s for looks rather than sporting performance.

Anabolic steroids were once only to be found around body builders - now they’re seen by teenage boys and young men as an instant fix for a designer body.

The NHS in Merseyside says boys as young as 14 are using steroids to grow faster and bigger.

"There’s wide ranging effects on sexual function, libido and actual reproductive function."
Jim McVeigh, Centre for Public Health

Inside Out has discovered the popularity of these drugs is now more widespread than had previously been thought.

Steroid usage is found across a range of jobs. They’re illegal to sell but not to use - and demand for them is growing.

Safety issue

A former police officer with a North West force tells Inside Out how he took steroids for 10 years. He was also a bouncer.

"If you’re bigger, people tend to be intimidated by you, so basically, they would be less inclined to be violent towards you.

"In their [users] own mind, it’s for their own safety. Bigger is better."

The Association of Chief Police Officers says they're not aware of anabolic steroids causing health problems for officers.

Signs of use

Linda Johnson
Linda Johnson is seeing younger steroid users

The first signs of the rise in steroid use have come from needle exchange centres, such as the Wirral Harm Reduction Centre in Birkenhead.

Here contaminated needles are swapped for new ones to reduce the risk of infection. For the first time, the largest group of new users is not heroin addicts - but steroid users.

Linda Johnson, from the centre says, "We’re getting an awful lot of is 17, 18 and 19-year-olds, who are using steroids. They are going to the gym and seeing older men who are using steroids.

"It’s a get quick culture that we live in and that’s why they use them, I think."

Media images

Researchers in Liverpool believe that desire to attain the perfect body stems - in part - from a shift in emphasis by the media.

Jim McVeigh from the Centre for Public Health has been monitoring steroid misuse in the North West for years. He's seen the drugs find new users.

Jim says, "In recent years we’ve seen an increase in the portrayal of the male body beautiful… this may have profound effects and cause pressure on males to conform to that appearance.

"Research has shown that it’s only a small minority of anabolic steroid users who are engaged in competitive sport."

Drugs and crime

Unlike many controlled drugs, steroids aren't normally associated with crime.

Paul George is a world champion body builder. He also runs a gym in Eccles, and says if people want steroids, they are easy to acquire.

"On a Friday night, there will be more people punching each other’s lights out through alcohol or other recreational drugs than through taking steroids," says Paul.

"Steroids are normally taken by people who are quite cautious about what they are doing, very into their sport, very aware of what the side effects are."

FACTS

Anabolic Steroids (AS) are derived synthetically from the male sex hormone testosterone.

There are nearly 200 AS preparations available worldwide.

AS rapidly increases muscle size.

In the UK, AS can only be prescribed by a doctor.

AS are available over the counter in parts of Europe and Asia.

Side effects

There is plenty of medical evidence to show that steroid misuse can have serious physical side effects.

Jim McVeigh say, "Acne, gynecomastia (development of breast tissue) and there’s also wide ranging effects on sexual function, on libido and on actual reproductive function."

Linda Johnson says, "It can impact on your liver, impact on your kidneys. It can increase your cholesterol and blood pressure."

Long-term

The true scale of steroid misuse in the North West is unknown, because not all health agencies monitor it.

Those that have, recognise that every time a top athlete is accused of doping, non-competitive steroid use goes up - the belief is if it works for them, it'll work for me.

And the dream of looking good, fast, could yet turn into a nightmare.

See also ...

Inside Out: North West
More great stories

On bbc.co.uk
BBC One Life: Anabolic Steroids

On the rest of the web
NHS - Wirral Health Service
Release
National Drugs Helpline

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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