JEREMY will never know if it was the steroids that made him lose his hair, or if that would’ve happened anyway as he neared 30.
But the acne, the fits of uncontrollable aggression, and a particularly terrifying Hep-C scare? That was all definitely from the juice.
Jeremy, aged 29, is one of the countless young Aussie men hooked on anabolic agents like steroids or peptide hormones, which supercharge their muscle growth at unnatural speeds.
The number of steroid users in Australia can’t be verified because these image-enhancing drugs are totally illegal; secretly ferried into the country mostly via parcel post, and then injected in the same clinics where heroin addicts get their fixes.
But we do know they’re becoming more and more popular. The number of performance and image-enhancing drugs detected at Australian borders rose 56 per cent last year, from an already staggering number the year before.
The number of performance- and image-enhancing drugs detected at Australian. Graph: ACC Illicit Drug Data Report.Source: Supplied
And they’re easy to get. If you don’t buy them online yourself, someone at your gym will get them for you, Jeremy explains.
“I started going to the gym after I turned 20 because I was a pretty scrawny guy compared to my mates,” the Gold Coast man told news.com.au.
“I work on building sites and all of the other blokes are pretty big, so you feel a bit of pressure if you’re not built the same way, especially on the Gold Coast I reckon.”
After a couple of years of chipping away earnestly at his fitness goals without the help of steroids, a man at his gym recommended an injectable anabolic-androgenic steroid.
“I did my first cycle when I was 23 and straight away I saw massive gains in my strength,” Jeremy explains.
“And as a result, your lean muscle mass just skyrockets. It would be like getting a year’s worth of ordinary growth in a month or two.”
Jeremy isn’t his real name. And he wouldn’t share photographs with us. Taking steroids for image enhancement is illegal, and talking about his experiences would incriminate him.
In the first “stack” of drugs he took was a pre-workout steroid that almost hospitalised him.
“It was like my insides and my mind were running a sprint, but my body was just sitting in a chair. It felt like I was wearing someone else’s body,” Jeremy recalls.
He persevered and the effects eventually became controllable.
Initially, Jeremy injected the drugs at home with a gym mate. The pair often shared needles with little regard for the obvious dangers.
“Looking back now, I realise how dumb we were,” Jeremy remembers. “We never would’ve shared a toothbrush or a roll-on deodorant, but we were using the same needle as each other, straight after it’d been in the other guy’s vein. It was so dumb.”
There was an anxious period four years ago, when Jeremy feared he’d contracted hepatitis from sharing needles, but, mercifully, he was found clean.
Law enforcement figures indicate illegal steroids are more abundant in Australia than ever before. Picture: Thinkstock, image is in no way associated with the persons mentioned in the story. Source: ThinkStock
And transmittable diseases aren’t the only drawback of steroid use.
As well as the baldness, ‘roid rage’ and acne mentioned earlier, Jeremy and his peers also face a lifetime of liver damage, a higher likelihood of liver cancer, constant trembling and jaundice.
They may also develop breast tissue, become infertile, experience heart problems. And their testicles will likely shrink.
The NSW Health Department says the results you get from illegal steroids are disputable – some studies insist they work at boosting muscle mass, while other say they don’t.
But one thing is irrefutable: Steroids are not safe.
“While it is true that many of the risks and side effects associated with using anabolic steroids have been exaggerated by some health professionals, sporting bodies, the media and handbooks, not all steroids will cause the same side effects,” the NSW Health
“Different drugs cause different side effects at different doses. However, every time you use another steroid, increase the steroid dose and the longer you use steroids, the more chance you have of getting more side effects.”
Then there are the legal risks. The number of steroid arrests
has risen dramatically over the past decade, and it’s usually the consumer – not the provider – in the police’s crosshairs.
Steroid arrests in Australia. Graph: ACC Illicit Drug Data Report. Source: Supplied
Jeremy has reduced the frequency of his cycles over the past two years, but still uses steroids.
He injects at a needle exchange clinic, which have seen dramatic spikes in the number of body builders using their services.
Of all the country’s syringe users, it’s estimated 5 per cent are injecting performance or image-enhancing drugs – up from only 1 per cent a few years ago.
And the popularity and availability of steroids continues to grow.
One in every 50 Aussies aged between 20 and 29 say they’ve been offered the opportunity to buy the drugs in the past year.
In Queensland, where Jeremy lives, the 19-24 age group accounts for a quarter of the people who shoot up steroids at needle exchange clinics. Another quarter is under 18 years of age.
But Jeremy bristles at the suggestion he’s anything like the other illegal drug users at the needle exchange clinic.
He insists there would be fewer complications and less steroid abuse if the drugs were legalised for body building, as they are for the treatment of conditions such as anaemia.
“You look around the gym at the guys that you know are injecting, and you think ‘These are just healthy guys, working hard in the gym and caring about the way they look’. What’s wrong with that?”