Users more aggressive and at significant risk of personal and psychological harmThe largest needle exchange service in the State has seen a “dramatic increase” in the number of people, mainly men, who are injecting anabolic steroids.
Some 15 per cent of those presenting at Merchants Quay Ireland (MQI) for injecting equipment in the past year who are using one drug only are using performance-enhancing steroids. Chief executive of MQI Tony Geoghegan said it was leading to “increased aggression” among some drug users, which was “not helpful on the streets”.
He also said the group was “at significant risk of physical and psychological harm”.
Of the overall population presenting, including men and women and those using several different drugs, 7 per cent were injecting steroids, which are associated with bodybuilding. This is more than the 6 per cent using cocaine and 6 per cent using crack.
Among the steroids they are injecting are nandrolone, deca-durabolin, equipoise, sustanon, tri-trenabol, testosterone propionate and trenbolone, says Emer Patten, a project worker at MQI.
‘Clueless’ While some of the young men knew what they were doing, others were “clueless and just getting their information from people they know who are using them too,” she said. “Some are taking only steroids, some are also taking other drugs such as ecstasy and amphetamines.
“The reason most of them are taking these steroids is that they want to look good, look toned and fit and this is offered to them as an easy, fast way to get there. They seem to think they will achieve the toned, fit body without putting in the hard work. So what we do is sit down with them and encourage them to find out about what they are taking and the effect it’s having on their bodies and their health. ”
Among the long-term harmful side-effects of taking these steroids incorrectly were increased cholesterol, cardiovascular damage, liver damage, kidney damage and infertility. In the short-term users could experience mood swings, water retention, erectile dysfunction, increased sex-drive and/or increased aggression.
Aggression “Most steroids increase the male characteristics, like sex-drive and aggression. There would be issues there about engaging in unprotected sex and reacting aggressively to situations that could bring people into legal difficulties,” Ms Patten said.
“We assume we are seeing a very small proportion of the young men out there taking these steroids. Most are not accessing services such as ours.”
A report from MQI’s needle exchange service, published earlier this year, noted that although two-thirds of needle exchange services in the State were seeing an upswing in steroid users, “there has been little published data on this developing trend.
“Public health initiatives have the propensity to overlook users of performance-enhancing and image-enhancing drugs. Given the furtive nature of the use of such substances, users are reluctant to seek medical treatment,” she said.
The main agencies in regular contact with them were the needle-exchange programmes, Mr Geoghegan said, meaning they remained “at significant risk of physical and psychological harm”.