“If you can’t get America’s largest distributor to stop selling steroids, how do you expect the rest of the online retail community to respond?”
You don’t have to work too hard if you want to buy steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. You don’t need to be a professional athlete like Ryan Braun or Alex Rodriguez, and you don’t need to find the next esoteric PED vendor like BALCO or Biogenesis.
If you’ve got access to the internet and a credit card or PayPal account, you don’t really need to look any further than mainstream online retail vendors, like Sears and Amazon.
After receiving a tip that a few dietary supplements containing synthetic steroids were for sale on Sears.com and Amazon.com, further research and conversations with experts confirmed not only that this was indeed the case but that many other supplements containing illegal substances were for sale and readily accessible.
The products initially found on Sears’ and Amazon’s websites were M-Sten Rx and Deca-Drol Max from the manufacturer IronMagLabs. Neither have appeared yet on the World Anti-Doping Agency banned substances list or been designated as adulterated products by the Food and Drug Administration, but both likely will, according to Oliver Catlin, who along with his father Don Catlin, runs the Banned Substances Control Group and Anti-Doping Research.
Anthony Almada, a nutritional and exercise biochemist with more than three decades of experience running and working with dietary supplement companies, agreed that the products containing steroid compounds appear to be adulterated products within the FDA regulations. These types of companies sully the reputation of the many responsible supplement companies in the $30 billion dollar industry, and they rarely, if ever, run long-term, independent studies that establish the safety of their new products — which can be expensive and reveal problems with ingredients that might minimize profits or force their removal from the market.
“They likely have no independent evidence to show that sustained use of their current products have safety in humans when using recommended doses,” Almada said. “If there’s no evidence it could be either way (safe or unsafe).”
M-Sten Rx is the more potentially dangerous of the two, as its key ingredient is a drug called methylstenbolone that resembles potent anabolic steroids listed as controlled substances by the Drug Enforcement Agency.
“Methylstenbolone would be the worst on the list. It tends to cause problems with the liver,” said Catlin, who reviewed the ingredients in both substances. He said that a key ingredient in Deca-Drol Max, called methoxygonadiene or Max-LMG, is also a steroid and thus illegal to sell in dietary supplements.
FDA regulations only allow supplements to contain dietary ingredients that have been present in the food supply prior to 1994 in a form that has not been chemically altered, unless manufacturers apply for a “new dietary ingredient” and provide proof to the FDA that the ingredient has a history of use or other evidence of safety. (Examples of what’s allowed: vitamins, minerals, herbs, botanicals, amino acids.)
“There is a lot of responsibility on the behalf of somebody like Sears. If you’re Sears and selling methylated steroids on your website … It exposes your company to risk,” he said. “Who at Sears is looking at these products and determining whether or not it’s ok to sell them?”
Indeed, why are supplements laced with steroids available on two trusted and reputable online retail vendors?
As Sears noted in a response to Forbes, these products, as with those on Amazon, are sold by third-party vendors in their marketplace.
“All Marketplace Sellers go through a registration process and agree to our Marketplace terms, which include a representation that the product is lawfully sold. If a violation of those terms occurs, we take appropriate action,” a Sears spokesman said. “Regarding IronMagLabs, we removed the inappropriate items and the vendor was notified that such items violate our terms.”
Shortly after reaching out to Sears for comment, M-Sten Rx was no longer available in their marketplace. Deca-Drol Max still is.
Amazon.com did not respond to a request for comment, but M-Sten Rx from IronMagLabs is no longer available there, either.
These types of designer steroids — not specifically named in the Anabolic Steroids Control Act or found on the DEA’s controlled substances list– often slip through the cracks and avoid detection by the DEA or the FDA until adverse medical reactions shoot them on to the regulators’ radar.As neither of these two steroids has been added to the controlled substances list – which takes an act of Congress or an administrative ruling by the DEA after a collaborative investigation with the FDA – the DEA would not take action against the tainted supplements unless they have proof that they’re analogues – or substantially similar – of other controlled substances.
“If we think there is a potential harm or danger in an unregulated substance, we will often begin the process of evaluation for possible control,” said Rusty Payne, spokesman for the DEA. He said methylstenbolone is on their radar.
Regulatory enforcement of IronMagLabs’ products at this point falls under the purview of the FDA.
Unlike drugs, dietary supplements require no prior approval from the FDA before being sold. The onus is on the manufacturer to follow the guidelines, and that puts regulators in a position to primarily react to – rather than prevent — the sale of illegal dietary supplements.
“This is a horrible problem; it has cost people their lives,” said Daniel Fabricant, director of the FDA’s dietary supplement division. “When we find violations, we’re not shy about acting and taking action to get those out of the hands of the consumer.”
Fabricant, whose division wrote a warning letter just this month to the company making a supplement called Oxy Elite Pro that is implicated in a rash severe illnesses and one death, advises consumers to stay away from products making “too good to be true” claims.
IronMagLabs, which did not respond to request for comment, isn’t exactly hiding the nature and intent of its products, a number of which contain ingredients that flout FDA regulations for dietary supplements. On its website, it gives a long explainer about the origin of methylstenbolone and its anabolic capability, comparing it with other steroids that have drawn action from regulators.
“When it comes to strength enhancement, M-Sten will perform impressively, rivaling steroids such as Superdrol and Anadrol. No doubt, this is a drug strength athletes will be able to put to good use,” the company writes. “Like all methylated steroids, M-Sten will exhibit some degree of liver toxicity, but when used responsibly, which entails proper dosing and cycle length, this should remain a non-issue.”
Note that the company refers to the substance as a drug and a steroid, neither of which are allowed in products marketed as dietary supplements. The two products it compares M-Sten to — Superdrol and Anadrol — are both powerful synthetic oral steroids and Schedule III controlled substances. Superdrol, or methasterone, was introduced by ex-con Matt Cahill, recently profiled by the USA Today, in the early 2000s and was linked to health problems. It resulted in the federal conviction in 2011 of a supplement company for introducing and selling an unapproved drug. Anadrol, also known as oxymetholone, was a widely-known, powerful oral anabolic steroid used by bodybuilders before it was banned.
But the products from IronMagLabs aren’t alone by a long shot — plenty of others containing steroids, some listed as controlled substances, are readily available.
The Catlins, prominent researchers who since the 1980s have conducted testing for a variety of sports governing bodies as well as the Olympics, found several anabolic steroids — methasterone, madol and tren — in misbranded dietary supplements for sale on Amazon in early 2011, as the Washington Post reported at the time.
“Anytime controlled substances are sold in dietary supplements or health supplements over the counter or on the internet, that’s obviously a violation of the law and a concern,” Payne said. “I can’t imagine Amazon executives would be in favor of violating the controlled substances act.”
Amazon’s performance hasn’t much improved since then, Catlin notes, as its online marketplace is still flush with illegal supplements more than two years after the Banned Substances Control Group first highlighted the problem. M-Stane by Dynamic Formulas, which also contains methylstenbolone (Ed Note: This initially read methasterone by mistake
), is currently available in its marketplace.
Catlin says it doesn’t bode well for the control and regulation of steroids if one of the most recognized retailers can’t keep them off its marketplace.
“If you can’t get America’s largest distributor to stop selling steroids, how do you expect the rest of the online retail community to respond?” Catlin asked.