September 15, 2014
Steroids loom as risk for NZ teens
The world’s leading anti-doping watchdog has warned Kiwi teens could become victims of an unbridled illegal steroid market as the criminal underworld takes advantage of the country’s weak laws.
It comes as inquiries by Fairfax Media show that the use of Performance and Image Enhancing Drugs (PIEDs) is now more wide-reaching than just bodybuilding circles, with many recreational gym goers seeking a quick fix.
Officials are concerned that people are unaware of the potential health risks associated with using PIEDs, like steroids, which are often manufactured in unsanitary, unregulated backyard labs.
They also fear that the use of PIEDs by some gym-goers could see young sporting talent led astray. Some of the country’s top schoolboy rugby teams have been canvassed on the issue, Fairfax Media has learned.
Police suspect a burgeoning organised crime influence in New Zealand’s PIED trade, suggesting gangs have recognised lucrative sale and supply opportunities in a low-stakes market.
Officials say tighter regulation of gyms and tougher penalties for importing and supplying PIEDs are needed.
World Anti-Doping Agency director general David Howman said the availability of PIEDs in New Zealand and other countries was a ‘‘major concern’’.
Global intelligence revealed organised criminal links to the trafficking of PIEDs and there was ‘‘stack loads of money to be made’’.
‘‘Those who are buying range from teenagers who want to look good to older people who want access to the fountain of youth,’’ Howman told Fairfax Media.
He feared the increased availability of drugs at a recreational level could lead to more doping in sport, particularly among young athletes trying to secure lucrative contracts.
‘‘This is an increasing problem for the health of our kids.’’
Drug Free Sport New Zealand chief executive Graeme Steel said he received regular reports that suggested the use of PIEDs was growing within the recreational arena.
Some of the country’s leading gyms were at the heart of the problem, he said.
‘‘[Gyms] are certainly the meeting point for it. Some gyms, and I’m not saying all of them, are just like the wild west out there – it’s just anything goes,’’ Steel said.
‘‘Athletes need to be making pretty good choices about which gyms they use.’’
He called on gym owners to ‘‘take some responsibility’’ and clean up their act.
‘‘For some of them the conundrum is a significant part of their clientele may be involved in [drug use] and commercially it may not be a good thing for them to stop it.’’
Ministry of Health figures show seizures of PIEDs have more than tripled in the last five years, but prosecutions have been scarce.
Steroid use can lead to high blood pressure, liver damage, changes to the heart, breast growth in men and shrinking of the testicles.
Last year, 340 parcels containing PIEDs with an estimated street value of about $590,000 were intercepted by authorities. In 2008, 89 similar packages were seized.
A warning might be issued but prosecution was always considered, Medsafe compliance management manager Derek Fitzgerald said.
Outgoing Organised and Financial Crime Agency New Zealand deputy director Detective Superintendent Ray van Beynen said police were monitoring gang links to the PIED market.
‘‘We have had reports of the outlaw motorcycle gangs dealing with these substances. To the gangs they represent higher profit, lower risk than some of the Class A, B, C drugs.’’
Van Beynen said police were involved in two relevant organised crime investigations, operations code-named Hive and Igloo. Hive focused on Wellington methamphetamine dealing and commercial cannabis growing.
Inquiries from that investigation gave rise to Igloo, which has focused on PIEDs supply in Wellington and Christchurch.
Minister for Sport Murray McCully said a recent Sport NZ-led report found no evidence of widespread drug use or organised crime in New Zealand sport. However, the connection between PIEDs and gyms was identified as a ‘‘risk’’ area due to bodybuilding and body beautiful industry links, McCully said.
‘‘New Zealand sport is not immune to corruption such as drug use.’’
Since the report was completed late last year, the Exercise Association of New Zealand has incorporated anti-doping into its code of ethics which also covers gyms.
Fairfax Media approached Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne’s office about the potential for tougher legislation surrounding PIEDs.
A spokesman said: ‘‘The level of concern raised about this issue at this stage does not warrant legislative action.’’
Medsafe group manager Dr Stewart Jessamine said he had not seen evidence that suggested the use of PIEDs was widespread in gyms and large numbers of people were not being admitted to hospital as a result of using the drugs, he said.
‘‘If that evidence becomes evident to us then that is what builds the case for arguing that new legislation is required.’’
Five of the country’s leading gyms were approached for comment.
Les Mills, City Fitness and Jetts Fitness responded.
They did not believe gyms were at the heart of PIED use in New Zealand. All of them had zero tolerance policies to drugs and said any illegal activity would be referred to authorities.
Les Mills managing director Dione Forbes said there had been three instances where members had been banned for using PIEDs in the company’s 46-year history.
One employment contract had been terminated for the use of other illegal drugs, she said. That person is understood to be champion Christchurch bodybuilder and personal trainer Steven Orton who was last month convicted of importing the Class C drug methylone.
The other companies had not banned any members for drug use.
Jetts Fitness New Zealand director Claire Attard said the company’s employment agreements and personal training contracts included a random drug testing clause that could be invoked at any time.
‘‘The biggest problem is the increased availability of PIEDs through online ordering or organised street suppliers and the change in social acceptance of the use of drugs,’’ Attard said.
‘‘To say that PIEDs are only sold within the gym industry is a blinkered view of the problem and maybe it would be more suitable to ban the import of such drugs and increase education and awareness on the evident negative effects of using such substances.’’