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Steroid Law – The Steroid Control Act(s)

In the United States both the possession and distribution of anabolic steroids is illegal and a felony offense unless prescribed by a physician for a viable medical purpose; enhancing athletic performance or simply building a better physique does not fall into this category. As performance enhancing is illegal the legislation by-which it exists stems from the Steroid Control Act of 1990 and the reinforcement of the original legislation with the Steroid Control Act of 2004. Failure to abide by the guidelines of the enacted legislation can lead to severe punishment including both prison time and fines and can apply to both simple possession and distribution or the intent to distribute.

As the federal government’s war on steroids has increasingly gained fire the enforcement of legislation has followed suit as many otherwise law abiding citizens have found themselves in the presence of the courts in disastrous ways. By federal law anabolic steroids are classified as Schedule III controlled substances in the same light as barbiturates and LSD precursors. In the U.S. there are five classes of scheduled drugs and are as follows:

  • Schedule I: Drugs with no viable medical purpose and that have a high rate of both dependency and abuse that can in-turn lead to severe physical damage.
  • Schedule II: Drugs that while possessing a viable medical purpose have a high potential for abuse and dependency and can in-turn lead to severe physical damage.
  • Schedule III: Drugs that possess a viable medical purpose but do carry with them the risk of dependency and physical damage but to a far-less degree than compared to Schedule II drugs.
  • Schedule IV: Drugs that carry with them a viable medical purpose but only a slight potential for abuse and very limited to physical damage or dependency.
  • Schedule V: Drugs that carry with them a viable medical purpose but only a slight potential for abuse and very limited to physical damage or dependency to an even lesser degree than Schedule IV drugs.

The Beginning:

In 1988 the U.S. Congress began a two year hearing process to determine if the original Controlled Substances Act needed to be reinforced; the use of anabolic steroids, although existing for decades had begun to make headline news as its use was highly apparent in professional sports. During the two year hearing congress called upon the American Medical Association (AMA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National Institute of Health (NIH), as well as the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to testify in hopes of receiving testimony that would support the proposed legislation; however, the results of the testimony were presented in a very unpleasing manner to congress. All of the agencies called to testify vehemently opposed the legislation stating there was no evidence that even abuse of anabolic steroids could or would lead to physical or psychological dependency which was a requirement for legislation to be passed under the Controlled Substances Act.

As the facts presented during the hearing process were unquestionable and as they gave no reason to classify anabolic steroids as a controlled substance congress chose to ignore the data and rule based on emotion. Congress made known for its desire to see steroids and the use of such substances to be removed from all competitive sports and through this desire the original Steroid Control Act was born.

The Steroid Control Act of 1990:

Objective: To remove the use of anabolic steroids in competitive sports and to subsequently remove the ability for individuals to acquire them for reasons of a more personal nature such as cosmetic.

- Basis: The argument was made that the use of anabolic steroids in sports is cheating and use itself in or out of competitive sports is dangerous in a physical nature and can lead to serious health related consequences. Congress determined that anabolic steroids and the use thereof created a severe dependency in the individual who partakes in them thereby stating abuse was readily assured.

Through the Steroid Control Act of 1990 authored by then Senator Joseph Biden, anabolic steroids were now classified as Schedule III controlled substances thereby criminalizing the use or distribution of steroids for any purpose outside of the medical field; by law anabolic steroids were now classified as Schedule III and include the following:

Individuals who now possessed anabolic steroids for the purpose of athletics or muscle enhancement or even simple cosmetic purposes were in violation of the law; of course, distribution was in-turn placed under sever scrutiny of the law. By the wording of the legislation it would now be a felony offense of severe consequence for any individual to intentionally possess under their own knowledge any anabolic steroid unless it was obtained through a licensed physician for the purpose of a prescribed medical treatment. Violators of the legislation by the wording of the law could be punished by up to one year in prison and a fine of at least $1,000; this is for a first time offender of anabolic steroid laws and one who has no prior drug related conviction. For those who are repeat offenders the cost by the law goes much higher with both prison time and fines increasing and minimum prison time being assured. Simple possession offenses for a repeat offender can result in as much as three years in prison and fines of at least $5,000.

By law as read in the legislation, as is expected distribution or the intent to distribute can and will be met with much stiffer penalties. A first time offender of anabolic steroid legislation who violates distribution laws in-terms of actual distribution or intent can be punished by up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine with both prison time and fines exceeding these numbers greatly for repeat offenders.

The Steroid Control Act of 2004:

- Objective: To strengthen the original Steroid Control Act by adding new steroid and steroid related items to the list thereby increasing punishment for violators of the legislation.

- Basis: The original Steroid Control Act had proven to be very ineffective in curtailing anabolic steroid use as its use was proven to have grown dramatically since the original enactment. As professional sports had shown steroids to now be as they were before very high in use an argument was made that this sends a wrong message to children and therefore the law must be enhanced.

With the passage of the original Steroid Control Act congress had hoped to curb the use of such substances not only in professional sports but by the wording of the law use outside of sports for cosmetic purposes. By the turn of the century such an effort had largely been proven ineffective and the newly revised steroid legislation was soon to be born. Signed into law in 2005, and again primarily authored by Senator Joseph Biden, the Steroid Control Act of 2004 actively increased the total list to 59 substances including specific substances of a non-steroidal nature such as esters were also added to the legislation. This new legislation proved to be far more reaching than the original as it now added pro-hormones to the list such as substances of an Andro nature. While direct anabolic steroids such as Testosterone, Nandrolone and Methandrostenolone were already listed as Schedule III the following 26 compounds were added:

  • Bolasterone
  • Calusterone
  • 1-dihydrotestosterone
  • Furazabol
  • 13b-ethyl-17a-hydroxygon-4-en-3-one
  • 4-hydroxytestosterone
  • 4-hydroxy-19-nortestosterone
  • Mestanolone
  • 17a-methyl-3b,17b-dihydroxy-5a-androstane
  • 17a-methyl-3a,17b-dihydroxy-5a-androstane
  • 17a-methyl-3b,17b-dihydroxyandrost-4-ene; 17a-methyl-4-hydroxynandrolone
  • Methyldienolone
  • Methyltrienolone
  • 17a-methyl-*1-dihydrotestosterone
  • Norandrostenediol
  • Norandrostenedione;
  • Norbolethone
  • Norclostebol
  • Normethandrolone
  • Stenbolone
  • Tetrahydrogestrinone.

As an interesting yet very important note the new legislation also changed the definition of anabolic steroids as previously understood by the original Steroid Control Act. No longer is an anabolic affect necessary, the term “promotes muscle growth” as stated in the original act was now removed. As ridiculous as it may sound by the wording of the law as it now reads the Attorney General for all intense purposes can classify a medication or derivative of such medication as an anabolic steroid of a controlled nature without purpose of cause.

Success and Failures:

It is no secret, anabolic steroids have in many instances been labeled public enemy number one which is beyond perplexing considering those who supplement with anabolic steroids are by-in-large law abiding citizens and make up a large portion of contributing society. By the hearings that took place in both congressional hearing terms regarding the 1990 and 2004 Acts only those of a despicable an immoral nature supplement with anabolic steroids but in the U.S. more than six-million adults supplement with anabolic steroids for the purpose of performance enhancement and by all accounts the number is fast on the rise. Without question the two enacting legislations have done very little to curb use but they have had two very successful affects; they have made use an even more underground pursuit and ruined the lives of many good people. Because obtaining anabolic steroids has gone deep underground consumer protection is non-existent; health risks are truly a risk when a substance is not obtained from a viable medical venue. Further, as our society rewards performance, as it should and as those in our society often view a physique as a means to self-confidence many risk the risk and many find the end to be devastating when caught.

The Perplexing Question(s):

With the passage of both Anabolic Steroid Control Acts in essence we have the second time in United States history that prohibition has been deemed the law regarding a subject matter that touches a large portion of the total mass of people. Through our history we saw how well prohibition worked as it did not work well at all but in the modern era there are things of interesting notes. One could and can easily make an argument regarding alcohol that supports prohibition on the basis of health concerns and morality and by-in-large it is on the same basis that the steroid legislation exists. However, as it pertains to anabolic steroids the question is simple; does such basis of an argument truly exist?

One of the primary arguments made is that athletes who use anabolic steroids are cheating and that cheating is immoral. No one can argue, cheating is immoral and if the use of anabolic steroids is prohibited in a particular sport for whatever reason(s) then use is cheating; that’s a pretty simple observation. However, one can easily argue should it be considered cheating, meaning, should a particular sport ban the use of steroids simply on the basis of them providing an athlete an advantage? Athletes in all sports do all they can to hold an advantage over the rest of the field; better training programs, better training facilities, better coaching, better diet and nutritional plans all play a role and all are accepted; it only becomes an unfair advantage when something is available to one while not another. This is not the case with anabolic steroids; anyone who wishes or chooses to use them can do so; they are not secret substances only available to the privileged few; in-fact, anabolic steroids are more readily available today than they were before the Anabolic Steroid Control Acts ever became law.

Of course there are the health related issues and in recent years the U.S. government has taken upon itself to deem what is healthy and what is not. However, one must keep in mind as it pertains to steroid based legislation, as discussed the AMA, the FDA, the NIDA, the NIH and the DEA all opposed the ban on the basis that there was no evidence that anabolic steroid use led to such physical problems purported to be held by congress. Since the time of the original Steroid Control Act the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) has released a study entitled “The Effects of Supraphysiologic Doses of Testosterone on Muscle Size and Strength in Normal Men” Supraphysiologic referring to doses far beyond those of medical and therapeutic needs and in conclusion they found no ill-effects from use of any significant nature. The negative results surrounding mood and behavior, often a supposed smoking gun by congress were deemed so insignificant by the NEJM that they were for all intense purposes completely nonexistent.

The truth and facts remain the same, in the United States more than six-million adults are supplementing with anabolic steroids and no one is dying and no one is turning into a raging monster on the basis of use. Every year more individuals visit the emergency room for complications dealing with Tylenol and Aspirin and a host of other over the counter medications than they do steroids; in-fact, anabolic steroids is down towards the bottom of the list for reasons relating to the emergency room; with six-million adults supplementing if they were truly dangerous wouldn’t the numbers be significantly higher? Again, the truth and facts remain, there is no sound argument that can be made to schedule anabolic steroids and to this day one has yet to be made that carried with it any weight. It is true, if anabolic steroids did lead to death that would be a sound argument but being as all evidence surrounding them is of a positive nature the argument it mute; especially when we consider that in nearly one-hundred years of use there has yet to be a death directly linked to the use of anabolic steroids. In the end the reality is very simple; the laws regarding the Steroid Control Acts were and are based on pure emotion rather than logic and reason and are one of very few pieces of legislation based on such criteria. Even so, while emotionally driven, however misplaced they may be the Steroid Control Acts remain the law of the land and violations of the laws can be nothing short of brutal.

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