Pharmacy Times

Anabolic Steroids: Silent Killers

Author: Cmdr John Burke

Steroids do insidious damage to the individuals who abuse them.


Recently, my task force completed a far-reaching case involving anabolic steroids. It started at our local YMCA with a couple of complaints of teenage athletes abusing the drug as they pumped up for football and other sports. The YMCA could not have been more cooperative, as they didn’t want this activity in their facility any more than law enforcement did.

I thought I was the perfect fit to do the undercover work, but my detectives persuaded me otherwise! Fortunately, we had an ATF agent who worked on our task force and fit the build for this operation. Penetrating these covert illegal operations, which generally find willing participants in local fitness centers and gyms nationwide, is not necessarily easy.

However, our undercover agent quickly began buying anabolic steroids and the case expanded. Before it was all over, we had found the clandestine laboratory responsible in a remote area of westcentral Tennessee. The drugs were being purchased in kilos from China and then mixed with olive oil and other substances in the lab and placed into injectable bottles for sale.

In addition to the injectable forms, hundreds of thousands of pill forms of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone were also purchased from China and delivered to Tennessee. Business was booming, with most of it transported through the United States mail. Needles and syringes were also available for purchase for those customers who needed them.

The main operation in southwest Ohio was set up somewhat like a typical business model or Amway operation. The leader conducted business meetings, offered incentives for those selling the most product, and solicited marketing ideas from his crew of distributors. We attended and recorded these meetings for later court evidence.

When it was all over, 32 individuals had been indicted on multiple felony counts and more than $600,000 worth of steroids had been seized along with 100 firearms of all kinds. As of this writing, most of the defendants have pled guilty and are awaiting sentencing.

I guess what somewhat surprised me was the extent of the anabolic steroid abuse we uncovered. It’s not a prescription drug that we deal with on a regular basis, and the sellers and users are part of a closeknit group that doesn’t often advertise its wares. There was no question that some of these drugs make it to the high school athlete level, although no juveniles were indicted during this investigation.

Anabolic steroids work in a cruel way. Unlike prescription opiates where someone may overdose several times or reach rock bottom through multiple unsuccessful rehabs, anabolic steroid abuse seems to work silently over time. There is no passing out or the necessity of being brought back from almost certain death by administering naloxone—all warning signs that may save an addict’s life.

Anabolic steroid abusers may experience some physical signs like acne, reduced sexual abilities, and even potential rage that can accompany excessive usage, but likely not visits to the local emergency department after an overdose.

Slowly but surely, internal organs become stressed and begin to die prematurely. The liver and cardiovascular system are particular targets of the abuse of these substances. Of course, once the damage has occurred and been detected, it is likely too late for the abuser—all for the lust to obtain the ideal physique. Many of the users never think they are big enough and the use of these drugs becomes a psychological addiction that is difficult to curtail.

Most of the people we arrested had no criminal record and many were working at decent jobs. However, those trafficking in anabolic steroids are ultimately killing people the same as the cocaine, heroin, or prescription drug dealer.

In working this case, I found that this abuse is much more pervasive than I would have ever thought. The explosion of fitness centers and workout centers has given those interested in this illegal activity easier access to these drugs and the temptation of getting just a little bit bigger.

The hope is that we are successful in these cases and they have a lasting effect on those abusing and selling anabolic steroids, with the ultimate goal of saving lives.


Cmdr Burke is a 40-year veteran of law enforcement and the current president of the National Association of Drug Diversion Investigators. He can be reached by e-mail at burke@choice.net, via the Web site www.rxdiversion.com, or by phone at 513-336-0070.