YOUNGSTERS are being warned of the dangers of anabolic steroids by a former fitness fanatic who developed heart problems.
Stephen Pratt was just 18 when he started taking the drugs to improve his physique, and his weight soon leapt from 10 st 7lbs to 13st 7lbs.
He stopped taking steroids in January, but was rushed to hospital in May because his resting heart rate was 150 beats per minute - when it should be 60 to 80.
Mr Pratt, now 20, said: "The problem now is so many people don't learn about them. I never learnt about steroids.
"Everyone thinks if you are not injecting for a long time you are OK. I was taking them orally."
He took the drugs for a year-and-a-half and claims they are widely used by people of all ages in north Essex, some as young as 16.
At the height of his use, Mr Pratt was taking six steroids, testosterone and legal supplements daily.
He became more aggresive and started getting into fights, and believes many violent incidents in north Essex are down to people abusing the drugs.
Although he had stopped using the drugs, Mr Pratt started getting chest pains in April. Doctors said there was a chance the problems were caused by steroids.
Mr Pratt, of Shalford, who works for Costa Coffee in Braintree, will now have to take beta-blockers indefinitely.
He said: "As society is becoming more and more based on perfect appearances, a lot of school children will grow up pursuing fitness. Some may even make the same mistakes as I did.
"To prevent this, I would like to visit a few local high schools, starting with my former school, Tabor Science College, telling my story and using pictures I have from training, to make people aware of this problem."
l Statistics from the Home Office's British Crime Survey in 2008/9 showed the best estimate for the number of 16-59 year olds who admitted using anabolic steroids in the past year was 46,000, while a total of 182,000 are estimated to have ever used them.