Steroids problem not just for pros

Steroids problem not just for pros

Recent raids show drugs are available, being used by teens.

Farmingdale, N.Y. – A mom worries about the pressures on her 17-year-old son. A prosecutor frets the problem may be worse than anyone imagines. And a former Mr. Universe predicts law enforcement crackdowns will succeed about as well as Prohibition.

While Marion Jones and Barry Bonds create the biggest headlines in the steroids scandals that have roiled professional sports, many believe the problem is far more prevalent among amateur athletes in America’s schoolyards and gyms, thanks in part to the easy availability of performance-enhancing drugs.

Whipping up a batch of “juice” in your kitchen or a makeshift lab could not be easier; the correct clicks on Internet sites provide not only the raw materials, but instructions on how it’s done.

The magnitude of the problem became clearer last month when federal authorities rounded up 124 suspects and busted 56 steroid labs nationwide. They seized $6.5 million in cash and 11.4 million steroid doses, as well as 242 kilograms of raw steroid powder believed to be from China.

Agents had one of their largest hauls on Long Island, seizing nearly 2.5 million doses of steroids with a street value of $13 million. One group of suspects operated the “Strong Island Underground Lab,” located above an auto body shop.

“People think it’s only the multimillion-dollar athletes, the Barry Bonds,” Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice said. “And that’s fine if professional athletes want to do that, but they have to understand they serve as role models for our little kids. I would not be surprised if it turns out that these steroids are going to the local high schools, the high school gyms.”

In a separate investigation, New York state officials seized $7.5 million of human growth hormone and anabolic steroids from a Brooklyn pharmacy this month. They said that raid was an offshoot of the Albany County District Attorney’s investigation into an Orlando, Fla., company whose client lists reportedly included many professional athletes.

But it appears many others are getting their hands on steroids by more covert means.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of high school students throughout the United States in 2005 found that nearly 5 percent reported using steroids without a doctor’s prescription. And a 2006 Monitoring the Future Study revealed 17 percent of eighth-graders, 30 percent of 10th-graders, and 41 percent of 12th-graders reported that steroids were “fairly easy” or “very easy” to obtain.

Darlene Iaquinta of Melville said her 17-year-old son A.J. is an athlete who has rejected the lure of performance-enhancing drugs. But she understands that the temptation exists, especially as sports become more competitive.

“I think the pressure for them to excel in their sport is such – to get the scholarship, to go to college – that they’re looking for any edge that they can get,” she said during a break in her own workout routine at a Long Island gym.

“And quite frankly, so are the parents. And if they think steroids will do it, then they’re going to use that, unfortunately.”

Steve Michalik, a former bodybuilding champion crowned both Mr. America and Mr. Universe in the 1970s, said he too has seen the pressure on young people to “juice.” He recalled a teenage pitcher told to get the speed up on his fastball by a major league scout.

“He comes back to the gym and he’s all buffed up,” Michalik said. “And he admits to me that he took steroids with his father’s approval, because it means dollars.”

Michalik, who once used steroids but now advocates for a clean workout regimen, is dubious of law enforcement crackdowns. He predicted the recent sweeps across the country will do little to stem the flow of steroids.

“I was thinking back to the days of Prohibition, where the government spends thousands, maybe millions of dollars in manpower and money and effort in a losing cause,” the muscular 59-year-old personal trainer lamented. “Because you can’t stop people from doing what they want to do.”

He said legalization and regulation are the only remedies, and warns that taking a substance whipped up in some guy’s basement carries its own peril.

“Who knows what impurity you’re injecting into your bloodstream?” he said.

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