An amateur bodybuilder has given an alarming insight into so-called steroid vacations, where eager athletes head to Thailand to buy supplements that are illegal in Australia.
All manner of performance-enhancing substances are legal in the country, and sell for a fraction of the cost of their black market equivalents in Australia.
The vacations are also fuelling a lively black market, and creating serious legal and health risks for those who partake.
Jarrad Fisher, 21, weighed just 70 kilograms as a teenager, but naturally bulked up through a diet, exercise and natural supplement regime.
To push his body to a new level, the Brisbane resident began looking to substances that would be illegal in this country.
“I came across steroid vacations,” he told 7.30.
“I always knew Thailand was a place to go to get real cheap steroids and to train at good gyms.
“But it’s a new thing these days that bodybuilders are going over just simply to live there for short periods just to completely utilise all the supplementation, the gyms and the steroids.”
Bodybuilders are going over just simply to live there for short periods just to completely utilise all the supplementation, the gyms and the steroids.Jarrad Fisher
What he found in Thailand was an abundance of performance-enhancing drugs like steroids and human growth hormone – all of them legal and available over the counter.
“Probably about 90 per cent of the chemists you walk into just have it,” Mr Fisher said.
“You walk in, ask them, they bring out a big book like big list of things, pictures and stuff, different brands of different things.
“Just page after page, and you go through it all have a look what you want and just ask them, they’ve got it on hand there usually. If they don’t have it they’ll tell you to come back and within 24 hours they have it brought in by somebody.”
He says the drugs are available at very cheap prices.
“Honestly I probably didn’t pay more than $20 for a vial. Over here you pay anywhere between $250, $350 a vial depending on what you’re getting,” he said.
Steroid use carries great health risks, such as permanent liver damage and cancer.
Dr Michael Jamieson, the president of the Australian College of Sports Physicians, says vacations to take the risks of steroid use to another level.
“There is no regulation or no control about how that person receives that medication or receives that drug, or how it’s administered and how it’s monitored,” he said.
“It is a concern to myself, it’s a concern to my college and it’s a concern to the government.”
Steroid seizures and arrests at record levels
Paul Jevtovic, the executive director of the Australian Crime Commission, says its latest Illicit Drugs Report found a 57 per cent increase in the number of border seizures of drugs like steroids and human growth hormone in one year.
That includes 6,126 steroid detections, the highest in a decade.
“These are the highest recorded detection and seizure levels for performance and image enhancing drugs by customs at out border,” he said.
“So you see quite an alarming trend around the number of performance and image enhancing drugs being seized.”
In Queensland, which accounts for 58 per cent of steroid arrests, syringe exchange programs say they are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of clients using steroids.
Most of the time the drugs are not even physically purchased overseas.
Ninety per cent of the detections made by Customs happen in mail centres, with people smuggling the drugs through the parcel post system.
Key ACC findings on steroid use
- Number of performance enhancing drugs detected at border up 56.9 per cent in 2011-12.
- That includes 6,126 steroid detections, the highest in a decade.
- Queensland accounts for 58 per cent of steroid arrests.
- National steroid seizures and arrests increased and are the highest on record.
There is a thriving online market in steroids and other performance enhancing substances that fuels the black market in Australia.
One site boasts of being able to get around Australia’s tough laws.
But the risk for the buyer is considerable. Importing steroids into Australia carries a maximum fine of $170,000 and a jail term of up to five years.
“We have seen a growing availability of performance and image-enhancing drugs and hormones available on the internet and of course this is one of the unfortunate by-products of technology,” Mr Jevtovic said.
Earlier this year Mr Fisher became one of those border detection statistics.
When he returned from Thailand to Brisbane in February, he made a critical mistake by not checking his bags.
“I forgot that I had a couple of vials in there and I had some stuff left over that I didn’t use when I was over there and when I was in a rush coming into the airport from Thailand I completely forgot about everything,” he said.
Customs seized the vials of testosterone and he was charged with possession.
Fortunately for him, the magistrate accepted his absent-mindedness and he was given a good behaviour bond and had no conviction recorded.
Mr Fisher is not put off going to Thailand and is determined to pursue his dream of becoming a professional bodybuilder.
“I’ll be going there for the rest of my life,” he said.
“It’s not even just going there to use the substances and training and that, as much as I love that. It’s also just a really good place to go for a holiday.
“You know, good sights, good shopping, everything’s great there, on top of obviously the pleasures of a bodybuilder.”