BY NICHOLA RUTHERFORD
A clinic for steroid users is to open in the Highlands after drug workers spotted an increase in the number of people using the performance-enhancing drugs.
Workers at needle exchanges in Inverness have noticed more people coming in for clean injecting equipment for use with so-called "performance and image-enhancing drugs".
They fear there may be even more unknown users of the class-C drug in the region.
Now preparations are under way for some NHS staff to have specialist training on supporting these drug users and there are plans afoot to open a clinic dedicated to this problem.
It is understood this will be only the second clinic of its type in Scotland - there is a once-a-week drop-in clinic in Glasgow specifically for steroid users.
Yesterday a spokeswoman for NHS Highland said the work would be carried out by its harm reduction service, which is based at Waterloo Place in Inverness.
She said the plans are in the very earliest stages, adding: "Our staff are looking into the needs of these people and what training they need to support them.
"We will be starting a clinic for it. But it's a hugely specialised area and it's going to take time."
The drugs, which can be injected or taken as pills, are often obtained in gyms or over the internet.
According to Drugscope, many are made in illicit labs and factories in the Far East or Asia where there is no quality control.
They are used by rogue elite athletes like Ben Johnson, some competitive body-builders and people looking to "bulk up".
Their active ingredient is the male hormone testosterone so they can exaggerate male traits like baldness and severe acne, but they can also cause lasting damage to the liver.
The drug also prompts the production of female hormones, causing male testes to shrink, and breasts can develop.
Last night Martin Barnes, chief executive of DrugScope, said: "Because of the link with weight training and what may otherwise be a healthy lifestyle, many people using anabolic steroids do not consider themselves to be a 'drug user'.
"However, there are risks when injecting any substance, particularly if equipment is shared, as well as potential physical and mental health harms associated with anabolic steroid use.
"Needle exchange programmes can help reduce the risk of blood-borne virus transmission, but also put users in contact with healthcare professionals who can provide information, advice and support."