Western Australia’s illicit drug needle exchange has had a surge in young men injecting steroids just to get “the tight white T-shirt look”.
The WA Substance Users Association says its needle exchange once rarely saw people using performance and image-enhancing drugs, known as PIEDs, but they now made up one-fifth of its 10,000 services a year.
Most are men in their 20s and 30s, including FIFO workers, and many are unaware of the health risks from using intramuscular injections, veterinarian drugs and illegally imported steroids.
Once people used steroids to enhance athletic performance but the main aim now is to get a “ripped” physique rather than be able to lift heavy weights.
It is illegal to use steroids in Australia without a doctor’s prescription and they are prescribed only for medical conditions.
But many are imported illegally, with Customs detecting performance and image-enhancing drugs at borders more than 10,000 times in 2012-13.
WASUA hepatitis C educator and PIEDs project officer Mikayla McGinley said many people using the drugs did not consider themselves illicit users and were not under medical supervision.
But they risked getting blood-borne viruses and adverse reactions from mixing steroids with drugs such as methamphetamines and alcohol.
“Ten years ago, about 2 per cent of contacts were with people using PIEDS and then it went up to 12 per cent in the last few years, but it’s now up to about 20 per cent,” she said.
Men were using the drugs to strip fat and accentuate muscles.
The group’s drug counsellor and health team co-ordinator Frankie Valvasori said it was important people using the drugs had access to safe injecting equipment and knew the risks.
“It’s important to talk to them about how to use their cycles because there is a lot of poor knowledge and a lot of them want to stay bulked up and don’t give themselves a rest,” Ms Valvasori said.
“We don’t discriminate, so it’s a safe, confidential place to come and the information is starting to get into the gym community so more people are coming to us.”
But the association was concerned about the long-term public health implications from the growing trend of men using body-enhancing drugs.
Ms Valvasori said men who would not have thought about injecting were doing it because the image was propagated and they saw what others looked like.
“It’s almost becoming a body dysmorphia where the male identity becomes this ripped look and then men are prone to depression when they have to go off their cycle,” she said.
“The pressure is growing on young males to have a certain look.”