Europol targets underground laboratories in illegal doping crackdown

Anabolic steroids can cause heath problems such as the risk of heart attacks, infertility and mood swings
Anabolic steroids can cause heath problems such as the risk of heart attacks, infertility and mood swings

Underground laboratories producing illegal doping substances and counterfeit medicines have been shut down in a Europe-wide crackdown.

Operation Viribus saw nine underground laboratories closed and almost 24 tonnes of anabolic steroid powder - some heading to UK gym-goers - seized.

It also dismantled 17 organised crime groups, with 234 suspects arrested.

Although the use of steroids is not illegal, the sale of them is and they present significant health risks.

According to government figures, at least 300,000 people in England and Wales have taken anabolic steroids, which help build strength.

But in the UK they can only be sold by pharmacists with a doctor's prescription.

NHS guidelines show that people who misuse steroids risk health problems such as heart attacks, infertility and mood swings.

However, that has not stopped an increase in its use, particularly by amateur athletes and gym goers, according to UK Anti-Doping.

In 2017, a BBC Sport survey found that more than a third (35%) of amateur sports people say they personally know someone who has doped.

Europol, which led the multi-agency crackdown, says that over the past 20 years worldwide trade in anabolic substances has increased significantly.

The World Anti Doping Agency was also involved in the investigation, which Europol described as the largest action of its kind.

Twenty-three European countries were involved in the operation, including the UK.