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Queensland syringe exchange programs say they are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of clients using steroids, especially on the Gold Coast.
Statistics show steroid use is on the rise nationally, with the latest Australian Crime Commission (ACC) data showing the highest number of steroid seizures and arrests on record.
Queensland has continued to account for the highest proportion of steroid arrests, and on the Gold Coast gym junkies are heading to needle exchange clinics.
In fact, there are now more people using the needle exchanges to inject steroids than heroin and other narcotics.
Nick Alexander from the Queensland Injectors Health Network says in the last half of 2012, Gold Coast clinics reported more than 1,400 clients were using steroids.
That compares to 906 on amphetamine and 878 injecting heroin.
“Steroid use is number one each month when I extract the data and it is not by just a little bit,” Mr Alexander said.
“It can range from 50 occasions to 150 occasions per month, so it is quite extreme and really has increased.
“Back in 2000 I was volunteering for a clinic and you just didn’t really see it – you really saw heroin, amphetamine, morphine-type substances being injected.”
He says many clinics are now overrun with muscly young men.
“On the lead-up to weight lifting competition and body building competitions the staff have told me that they do see an increase in people coming in for needles and syringes,” he said.
Mr Alexander says it can be hard to get users to accept that injecting steroids poses serious health risks.
“They don’t see themselves as injecting drug users the same as like a heroin user, they would like to put themselves as far away from that kind of culture as possible,” he said.
Dr Steve Hambleton, the president of the Australian Medical Association, says there is a “black market” for steroid use.
“We do know that it is actually getting into our schools and if we take the international evidence we know that people as young as 13 or 14 are starting to use steroids at school,” he said.
“Of course you get into this vicious cycle and it is often in an underworld in an undercurrent and we are very concerned about the safety of these products for individuals.
“These are people who care about themselves, yet they are putting themselves at risk. We often see them using a cocktail of drugs which actually complicates the issue in relation to side effects.”
Dr Tony Shields, a former weightlifter who lectures in exercise science at QUT, says steroids are increasingly being used by young men training at gyms.
“If you were wanting steroids in Brisbane, for example, I don’t think it would take too many trips to local gyms before you could find someone who knew something about how to get them,” he said.
“Very often they might start to use steroids when the progress doesn’t match their goal but once they start making rapid progress or accelerated progress with steroids, it is very, very hard for anyone then to cease using steroids and go back to the rate of progress they had earlier.
“Some of these drugs were stolen from vet clinics, potentially stolen from pharmacies and nowadays it seems that there is increasing importation of these drugs from overseas.”
Steroid user speaks out
A 24-year-old steroid user spoke to the ABC about his experience on the condition of anonymity.
He says after years working out at the gym, steroids were the next natural step.
“Your strength goes through the roof, muscle mass … you could probably gain a year’s worth of muscle in two months,” he said.
He says he researched the long-term effects but was not too concerned.
“You look at body builders from the 60s and they’re still kicking … and they were taking an enormous amount of steroids back when they were legal,” he said.
He insists he has experienced few side effects in his quest for the perfect body.
Meanwhile, the ACC report shows steroids seizures were up more than 56 per cent nationally last year.
The Illicit Drug Data report also shows the number of performance and image-enhancing drugs detected at the Australian border last year increased by almost 57 per cent – the highest reported in the last decade.
Dr Hambleton says action must be taken to stem steroid use.
“We’ve really got to start taking a step back and looking at the body-beautiful focus of our society,” he said.
“International evidence is showing us that older school children and now younger school children are getting access to steroids and it would be foolhardy to think it wasn’t happening in Australia as well.
“If we are hearing that our needle exchange clinics are being overrun by steroid users then we have got to listen to that signal and we’ve got to do something about it.”
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