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July 18, 2022
Fake anabolic androgenic steroids on the black market. Are they legit?

BMC Public Health

. 2022 Jul 17;22(1):1371. doi: 10.1186/s12889-022-13734-4.

Fake anabolic androgenic steroids on the black market – a systematic review and meta-analysis on qualitative and quantitative analytical results found within the literature

Raphael Magnolini 1 2Luis Falcato 3Alessio Cremonesi 4Dominique Schori 5Philip Bruggmann 3 6Affiliations expand


Objective: Supraphysiologic doses of anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS) are widely used to improve body image and sport performance goals. These substances can easily be acquired over the internet, leading to a substantial black market. We reviewed literature that assessed the quality and quantity of AAS found on the black market.

Methods: We searched PubMed/Medline, Embase and Google Scholar for articles published before March 2022. Additional hand searches were conducted to obtain studies not found in the primary literature search. Studies were included if they report on qualitative and/or quantitative analytical findings of AAS from the black market. Primary outcomes were proportions of counterfeit or substandard AAS. Eligible articles were extracted; quality appraisal was done using the ToxRTool for in-vitro studies. We used random-effects models to calculate the overall mean estimates for outcomes. The review protocol has been published and registered in INPLASY.

Results: Overall, 19 studies, which in total comprised 5,413 anabolic samples, met the inclusion criteria, and passed the quality appraisal from two WHO world regions that reported findings, the Americas and Europe. Most studies were nonclinical laboratory studies (95%) and provided samples seized by authorities (74%). In 18 articles, proportions of counterfeit substances and in eight articles, proportions of substandard substances were presented. The overall mean estimate for counterfeit anabolic steroids found on the black market was 36% (95% CI = 29, 43). An additional 37% (95% CI = 17, 63) were of substandard quality. We also demonstrate that these drugs could contain no active ingredient, or in another amount than that labeled, a wrong active ingredient, as well as not all or more active ingredients than were labeled. High heterogeneity among all analyses and significant differences between geographical subgroups were found.

Conclusion: With this systematic review and meta-analysis, we demonstrate that substantial mean proportions of black-market AAS are counterfeit and of substandard quality. These products pose a considerable individual and public health threat, and the very wide range in proportions of fake black-market AAS puts the user in a situation of unpredictable uncertainty. There is a great need for future prevention and harm-reduction programs to protect users from these substances.

Keywords: Anabolic androgenic steroids; Black market; Counterfeit; Doping; Epidemiology; Fake; Falsified; Quality; Quantity; Substandard.


  1. Solimini R, Rotolo MC, Mastrobattista L, Mortali C, Minutillo A, Pichini S, Pacifici R, Palmi I. Hepatotoxicity associated with illicit use of anabolic androgenic steroids in doping. Eur Rev Med Pharmacol Sci. 2017;21(1 Suppl):7–16. – PubMed

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ORIGINAL ARTICLE: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35842594/