Pharmacy Times

Drug Diversion and Abuse: Anabolic Steroids: The China Connection

Author: Cmdr John Burke


China has become a major supplier of anabolic steroids and counterfeit look-alikes to US traffickers.
Over the past couple of years, our task force has noticed a troubling pattern in prescription drug abuse and diversion. Although I thought that the first large case was just an outlier, I should have known better. Trafficking was occurring across America, not just southwest Ohio.

The first case started in our local YMCA with a complaint about high school boys using anabolic steroids to bulk up for football and wrestling. After the introduction of our undercover officer, it was made clear very quickly that these medications, in both injectable and pill form, were ready for purchase. This original seller was low level at best, and we made a couple of buys and approached him for his supplier.

This took us into 2 local fitness centers where the trafficking levels increased considerably. Once the undercover let it be known that he also wanted to get into the selling action, he was invited into a closed circle that operated with almost a dozen sellers who distributed their product by placing it in lockers located inside a business park. Buyers never saw their sellers; they simply picked up their drugs and left the money inside. Everybody was happy, and the traffickers reinvested their profits.

We were ultimately able to identify the kingpin for the entire region, and ended up following him numerous times as he shipped 10 to 20 packages of steroids almost every day from the good old US Post Office near his part-time job as a receptionist for a dentist.

We indicted and convicted 32 individual traffickers in anabolic steroids, along with many firearms, and a large cache of steroids in Tennessee, the ultimate American supplier.

The ink was hardly dry on the 32 convictions when we encountered an unrelated anabolic steroid operation, although not quite as extensive, which involved government employees in positions of trust. Once again, an undercover agent was put into service and he immediately not only bought the drugs, he was able to get an incredible taped overview of the operation from manufacture to distribution.

Because of his position, we moved in quickly on the supplier, and got him to identify his co-conspirator, also an employee who was trusted in his work environment. Both of those individuals were forced to resign from their jobs, and the case investigation continues.

What makes these cases similar is the ultimate world source—China. Both of these operations relied on the purchase of kilos of anabolic steroids from this country. In addition to liquid and pill form steroids, they were also able to purchase bottles and needles and syringes from their China supplier. Once mixed with olive oil, the injectables were ready to be placed inside the bottles, a label was slapped on them, and they were sold to the world of body builders and weight lifters anxious to be even bigger than before.

Again, everyone is happy, until years of injectable anabolic steroid abuse and the once well-endowed body builder experiences multiple organ failures and/or brain diseases that reduce his seemingly healthy body into one ravaged by life-threatening issues. Anabolic steroids, unlike pharmaceutical opioids, don’t generally cause an overdose, or sudden death, but often take years to take their toll.

The point is that China has become a major supplier of anabolic steroids, synthetics including bath salts, and an array of counterfeit medications that look identical to the bona fide products. The volume of these drugs coming across our borders is staggering, and the occasional interdiction by US authorities is the cost of doing business for these illegal entrepreneurs. The risk for them is very small, as their own country condones this practice, and pursuing them in their country is almost impossible.

As we tend to worry about our American pharmaceuticals and their abuse, the Chinese are quietly saturating this country with drugs that can ultimately kill us. Law enforcement has their work cut out for them, with the inability to pursue the ultimate traffickers as they hide behind their country’s walls. Of course, the ultimate drug abuse reduction is to significantly limit the demand.


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 website www.rxdiversion.com, or by phone at 513-336-0070.