A drug that doesn't get much press had "Dan" hooked. He borrowed $1,500 from the bank to support his habit. Deluded by the drug into thinking he was immortal, Dan had a friend videotape him while he drove his car into a tree at 40 mph.
He survived the crash and was lucky enough to kick the drug -- steroids. But there are millions more steroid users who ignore the dangers or fool themselves into thinking that muscle-building drugs can't be bad for their health.
But while the soldiers in the drug war focus on cocaine, they are ignoring the growing popularity of steroids among young people. The illegal trade in steroids has grown to a $400 million-a-year industry.
A congressional committee, headed by Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), is about to release the findings of an investigation into how the federal government treats the steroid problem. The investigators' report, obtained by our associate Scott Sleek, puts the Food and Drug Administration behind the eight ball.
The FDA, not police or drug enforcement experts, has the primary responsibility for regulating the steroids trade. But the agency has no one with the expertise or authority to investigate and crack down on the increasingly sophisticated steroids business. FDA investigators aren't allowed to carry guns, work undercover or execute search warrants. That's why Biden wants the Drug Enforcement Administration to get involved in the war on steroids.
The FDA has limited powers and isn't doing much with those. The agency doesn't require legitimate steroids manufacturers to submit reports on the volume of business they do. It doesn't collect information on the amount of steroids prescribed by doctors for legitimate use. And it doesn't have anything but a guess about the amount of legally produced steroids that slip into the black market.
Some of the steroids in the United States are smuggled in from foreign countries. But a few of the foreign suppliers don't even bother to smuggle. They wait for the customers to come to them. One Mexican firm sent ads to potential customers inviting them to a hotel just south of the border where they could buy steroids. "Tell your friends that here in Mexico there is no prescription necessary to obtain steroids," the solicitation said.
Steroid abuse among professional athletes has been widely reported in the United States. But the congressional investigators found an astounding market for steroids among teenagers who are obsessed with big muscles. Steroid use by male high school seniors is nearly as widespread as the abuse of crack cocaine.
It doesn't seem to matter to the teenagers that steroids have been linked to sterility, liver cancer and heart disease. Steroids can cause depression, hostility and distortion of judgment. They can also be addictive. Many teenagers say they know about the risks and use steroids anyway.
One 17-year-old weight lifter kept injecting himself with steroids despite his family's pleas to stop. His grades slipped. He threw temper tantrums and experienced wild mood swings. In 1988 he committed suicide. The boy's father found him lying dead beside his weights.