Police make steroids seizures once every 36 minutes!
Experts are warning Wales is in the grip of an epidemic of steroid drug use – as it emerges police are seizing batches of image-enhancing drugs in one area of the country every half an hour.
Analysis of police figures suggest South Wales is becoming a British steroid capital, revealing police made a seizure of steroid doses every 36 minutes on average in 2012-2013 – more frequent than any force in England and Wales and a 30% hike on the year before.
Public health bodies and drug misuse charities have warned of a culture where young men’s obsession with body image and competing to look better than their friends has fuelled a massive increase in steroid use in the region.
The information shows a total of 14,635 seizures were made in South Wales – making up a mammoth 95% of the Welsh total and amounting to an average of 40 seizures a day.
It comes after the body which advises on drug policy for England and Wales, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice), warned there had been a “dramatic” spike in the use of image-enhancing drugs, while Public Health Wales has warned of a concerning rise in the use of illegal, underground “steroid labs”.
We previously reported needle exchanges in Wales were warning injecting steroid users were outnumbering junkies at exchange points, and one charity has said it is now handling nearly 1,500 users in the Bridgend area alone.
Josie Smith, the national lead for substance misuse for Public Health Wales (PHW), said steroid use was “growing exponentially” across Wales as it became more socially acceptable, saying outline figures PHW had showed users who had presented voluntarily numbered 4,000. But she said the figure was likely the “tip of the iceberg” as many users would not seek advice or help.
She said men were under more pressure to bulk up, in a similar trend to how women are under pressure to be thin.
She added: “We know from activities within needle exchanges across Wales that this is not a problem unique to South Wales, however the prevalence of use among young males, according to the data we have available, show really high numbers in the Valleys and South Wales.
“In terms of why, we genuinely are not sure. It could be that it is more visible down here and used over a longer period of time, so it is more established. It could also be that there is greater emphasis on sporting achievement…which drives it.”
She said studies of how Action Man toys had changed over time to become an “over-blown, muscular six-pack kind of physique” reflects growing pressure on boys to live up to that image.
But she said PHW and other health bodies needed to debunk the myth that steroids was an easy way to achieve that body with little effort and emphasise the long list of dangers that injecting steroids presents.
Ms Smith warned users may be turning to underground labs to source steroids after a change in the law made ordering over the internet more restricted.
Drug charities also said escalating numbers of men coming to use needle exchanges for steroid use in South Wales.
Clare Price, manager of Bridgend-based drugs charity Ogwr DASH, said its needle exchange service had seen an increase of around 375 steroid users registered in a year and now had just under 1,450 steroid users on its books – meaning they made up the “vast bulk” of its service users.
“It has changed from young guys looking to attract the opposite sex, to get a partner, and now looking to compete with each other,” she said.
“Young men are trying to look as good as their friend does – and boys are taking much more notice of their own appearance than before.”
She also said its specialist teams who lead school, youth club and college visits on the dangers of drug use had notice big increases in the number of questions from young men about steroid use.
She said: “We have noticed in our substance misuse education talks that youngsters are asking more about steroids and how to change the way they look. They very rarely asked about it before.
“Of all the new, emerging drugs, they are asking more about steroids .
“They are looking for that quick fix. It has changed from being concerned about being attractive to that girl or boy, to looking better than their friends.
“Often with these guys, they say ‘I want to get to a certain weight, and then I’ll be happy’. But when they get to that weight, they aren’t happy and keep going.”
Ifor Glyn, the chief executive of Swansea-based drug and alcohol charity Sands Cymru, said the use of steroids in South Wales had been “growing bigger and bigger” in the last decade.
He said the charity was seeing around a quarter of all needle exchange users in Wales – and just under half of those are steroid users.
“There is a culture in South Wales with young men – and some women as well,” he said.
“A lot of it started with guys going to clubs and taking their tops off to dance and looking to look good for that, to get the aesthetic results. But there is now a culture where they compete to try and be the most macho.”
Detective Superintendent Dorian Lloyd of South Wales Police said: “Members of the public should feel reassured that South Wales Police will not tolerate the supply of illegal drugs within our communities, regardless of the level of classification.
“Anabolic steroids are Class C drugs and while it may be legal to possess or buy steroids for personal use, if officers suspect that there is an intention to supply, robust action will be taken.
“We encourage anyone who has concerns about drug dealing in their community to contact us directly via 101 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 with any information you may have.
“Members of the community act as our eyes and ears and usually have a very good idea who is responsible. We very much rely on the information they provide and these figures clearly show that they are willing to work with us to tackle the local drugs trade.”