In recent years the sports pages have contained more than box scores and game highlights. There have been stories of professional athletes whose careers and reputations have been derailed after it was revealed they used banned appearance and performance enhancing drugs (APED).
There are different kinds of these drugs but among the most common are anabolic steroids that are supposed to increase muscle mass and strength. The main anabolic steroid hormone produced by your body is testosterone. Human Growth Hormones (HGH) make up another class of APED.
To maintain the integrity of their sports, professional and amateur leagues have banned these substances. But beyond giving an athlete a physical edge, these drugs are prohibited because they carry health risks.
Many athletes have been known to take these drugs at doses much higher than those prescribed for medical reasons. The long-term effects are simply unknown.
Pressure to excel
So why would athletes risk their careers and their health by taking these banned substances? The pressure to excel – which can be worth millions of dollars – is one likely reason. Most serious athletes, amateur and professional, will tell you that the competitive drive to win can be fierce. And unfortunately this pressure is being felt at an early age.
A survey conducted for the Internet safety group, Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA), found eight percent of males between 18 and 25 have admitted taking APEDs. The findings were disturbing enough, but DCA went a step further. It attempted to order some APEDs online. The group was shocked at how easy it was.
DCA tried to buy four APEDs – three anabolic steroids and one shipment of Human Growth Hormone (HGH)-- online that investigators found during a search on YouTube. When the drugs arrived they were sent to Microtrace LLC, a testing facility in Elgin, Ill.
The first report came back positive. The lab found that the steroid was what the sellers claimed it to be – Deca Durabolin, a powerful drug that is illegal to possess without a valid prescription from a doctor. The second package – which the seller claimed to be HGH – was a fake.
DCA placed two other orders but said the drugs never arrived.
"The recently closed online drug black market, Silk Road, was a billion dollar enterprise – and it had nowhere near the traffic that YouTube does," said Tom Galvin, the executive director of DCA. "We applaud the crackdown on the dark web's worst operators, but many of those same operators do the same things on the open web that our children use every day. The brilliant minds at YouTube and Google are doing amazing things. If they can build a car that parks itself, why can't they build a wall protecting children from drug dealers?"
Taylor Hooton was a teen who took steroids to try and boost his baseball performance. Instead, the drugs cost him his life. Today, his father, Don Hooton, travels the country speaking to youth groups, preaching against the use of any kind of drug designed to boost athletic performance.
"We talk to children everyday who know where to find this stuff," Hooton said. "My son Taylor obtained his steroids from a 19-year-old drug dealer who he met at our local YMCA. Now, kids don't even have to leave the couch to find anabolic steroids, Human Growth Hormone, and other Appearance and Performance Enhancing Drugs. Today's dealers come right to the playground where kids live – the Internet."
While technology may have made the problem worse, turning to drugs to boost performance is as ancient as the Greeks. The National Center for Drug Free Sport says the use of enhancement substances for sporting events dates back to both the Greeks and the Maya. Performance potions were utilized by the Greeks to increase their abilities, and cocoa leaves where thought to be used by the ancient Maya to increase their abilities.
Unfortunately, today's ADEPs carry more risks. The Mayo Clinic says many athletes take anabolic steroids at doses that are much higher than those prescribed for medical reasons, and most of what is known about the drugs' effects on athletes comes from observing users.
Even more worrisome is a new class of anabolic steroids called designer drugs, synthetic steroids, have been illegally created to be undetectable by current drug tests. They are made specifically for athletes and have no approved medical use. That's why they haven't been tested or approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and, according to the Mayo Clinic, represent a particular health threat to athletes.