>Anabolic steroids are illegal. Possessing them, or selling them, can land you in jail. But buying them?
Just do a search on your computer for “steroids” and “China” and get a credit card ready. Your supplier is online.
“They come from China, from the United Kingdom, from Germany and eastern Europe,” said Rusty Payne, a spokesman for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. “But most of them come from China.”
“Virtually all of it today is coming from China,” said Don Hooten, president of the Taylor Hooten Foundation, a Texas-based organization dedicated to educating young people about the danger of steroids.
The stuff sold on local markets is not what star athletes get from fancy laboratories.
Instead it is of dubious quality, often mixed and packaged at dealers’ homes. If there’s lead or arsenic in the stuff China ships, then so be it.
“It’s a seedy, bad business,” Payne said.
And yet people are using anabolic steroids — weekend athletes and hard-core jocks alike, Hooten said.
Many are teenagers trying to improve their standing on a high school team. But even more often, it’s the so-called “mirror athletes” — young men and women who use it to tone their physiques, he said.
Police officers and firefighters — wanting to be stronger — are users as well, he said.
“Yes, yes, yes,” said Hooten, whose son Taylor committed suicide after using anabolic steroids. “We hear about that all the time.”
Suspicion of steroid use in the Danbury area was kindled by the arrest of Mark Mansa, of Bethel, last month.
Federal authorities claim Mansa was part of a drug ring that moved more than 1,000 pounds of marijuana through the region.
But for seven years Mansa was allegedly selling what prosecutors called a “significant” amount of steroids as well.
That would imply some people were buying.
Chip Salvestrini Jr., the former director of athletics at Danbury and Ridgefield schools who now serves as athletic director for the city of White Plains, N.Y., said it is pointless to deny that people use illegal steroids.
High school coaches who do so are in denial, he said.
“It’s like saying students don’t use alcohol or smoke cigarettes,” Salvestrini said. “It is around, but we just don’t know how much or where. Nobody knows that.”
But the DEA has tracked the China-steroid connection, most notably in 2007, the year before the Beijing Olympics.
In a sweep called Operation Raw Deal, the DEA broke up more than 50 steroid laboratories in the U.S. — the largest anabolic steroid operation in the DEA’s history.
That investigation found laboratories in the U.S., Mexico and Canada were getting their raw materials from Chinese suppliers.
Payne said rather than the vials of steroids that users inject, the product from China comes in a dry powder. It then gets mixed with oil, put in vials and sold illicitly.
The “labs” where the mixing gets done, Payne said, are sinks and bathtubs. There’s no guarantee of sanitary conditions.
And the oil can be anything on hand.
“It can be Wesson oil, peanut oil, sesame oil,” Hooten said. “We found it mixed with motor oil on the West Coast.”
And, he said, there are no federal regulators in China to make sure the anabolic steroids materials meet some official seal of approval.
“There’s one study that showed 21 percent of what was sold from China had lead, mercury, tin or arsenic in it,” Hooten said.
“It’s Russian roulette,” said Payne of the DEA.
He said the U.S. government is still watching the anabolic steroid trade. Anyone buying steroids online, he said, should be aware that a government sting operation could be in place.
But Payne also acknowledged it’s impossible for law enforcement agencies to keep tabs on all the websites and all the buyers.
“The Internet is a blessing,” Payne said. “But unfortunately in cases like this, it can be a curse.”