(Updated Dec. 2014)
In the United States, the possession and distribution of anabolic steroids is a felony offense unless prescribed by a physician for medical use. The enhancement of athletic performance or the desire to build a better body does not meet the definition of medical use. The Steroid Control Act of 1990 made the use of anabolic steroids for the purpose of performance enhancement illegal. This legislation would be enhanced and strengthened by the Steroid Control Act of 2004 and again in 2014 under the Designer Steroid Control Act of 2014. Failure to abide by the guidelines enacted by the aforementioned legislation can lead to severe punishments including fines and prison sentences. Such punishments can birth from charges of simple possession, distribution and the intent to distribute.
As the federal government’s war on steroids has increasingly gained fire, the enforcement of the legislation has followed suit with many otherwise law-abiding citizens finding themselves in the presence of the courts in disastrous ways. U.S. federal law classifies anabolic androgenic steroids as Schedule III controlled substances. Schedule III classification puts anabolic steroids in the same category as barbiturates and LSD precursors. In the U.S. there are five classes of scheduled drugs and are as follows:
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 their use in in professional sports had become highly apparent. During the two year hearing, congress called upon the American Medical Association (AMA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) to testify. Congress was hopeful that the agencies would testify in support of the proposed legislation. However, the results of the testimony were presented in a very unpleasing manner to congress. All five agencies testified in opposition to the legislation stating there was no evidence that even abuse of anabolic steroids could or would lead to physical or psychological dependency, a requirement for legislation to be passed under the Controlled Substances Act.
Despite strong opposition to the ban by its own governing agencies, congress ignored the testimony and proceeded with legislation. Congress made known its desire to see steroids and the use of such substances removed from all competitive sports, and through this desire the original Steroid Control Act was born.
Objective: To remove the use of anabolic steroids from competitive sports and to subsequently remove the ability for individuals to acquire them for reasons of personal use (cosmetic, bodybuilding, gym rats, etc.)
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 to the physical wellbeing of an individual 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 their use, 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, distribution or manufacturing for any purpose outside of the medical field. By law, Schedule III anabolic steroids under the original Act include:
Individuals who now possessed anabolic steroids for the purpose of athletic performance or muscle enhancement or any related cosmetic purpose were in violation of the law. By wording of the legislation, it is a felony offense of severe consequence for any individual to intentionally possess any anabolic steroid unless it was obtained through a licensed physician for the purpose of a prescribed medical treatment. First time violators of the law with no prior drug related conviction could be punished by up to one year in prison and a fine of at least $1,000. Repeat offenders would find the cost much higher with both fines and prison time increasing and prison time being assured. Simple possession for a repeat offender can result in as much as three years in prison and fines of at least $5,000.
Offenders of the Steroid Control Act of 1990 who violate the law of distribution, penalties are extreme. A first time offender of distribution of anabolic steroids can be punished by up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Repeat offenders will see these numbers significantly increased.
Objective: To strengthen the original Steroid Control Act by adding new steroid and performance 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 use had grown dramatically since the original enactment. Professional sports had been shown to have an extremely high use rate and the argument was made that such use sends the wrong message to children and necessarily resulting in a need for enhanced legislation.
With the passage of the original Steroid Control Act, congress had hoped to curb the use of steroids in not only professional sports but outside of sports as well. By the turn of the century, such an effort had largely been ineffective and the newly revised legislation was soon signed. 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. The new legislation proved to be far more reaching than the original as it now added prohormones to the list, specifically those of the Andro nature. While direct anabolic steroids such as Testosterone, Nandrolone and Methandrostenolone were already listed as Schedule III, the following 26 compounds were added:
An interesting and 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 steroid effect necessary, the term “promotes muscle growth” as stated in the original act was now removed. By wording of the new law, the Attorney General can classify a medication or derivative as an anabolic steroid of controlled nature without purpose or cause.
Objective: To close all loopholes left open by the former Steroid Control Acts and end the sale of all over the counter prohormones, and to give full control of regulation to the Justice Department and remove it from the FDA.
Basis: The 2004 Steroid Control Act had proven to be ineffective. The 2004 Act added numerous compounds to the Schedule III list, but did not take into account the alteration of these compounds. The 2004 Act was shown to have very little impact on steroid use in the U.S. and deemed new and stronger legislation necessary.
In December of 2014, the U.S. congress enacted new legislation that was the strongest since the original 1990 Act. There have been numerous pieces of legislation since the original Act, but none of has been more intense than the original and the 2014 Act. The Designer Steroid Control Act of 2014 would effectively close all loopholes left open. With many prohormones falling under the knife of the 2004 Act, numerous new prohormones had popped up to take their place. As prohormones were sold as dietary supplements, openly and over the counter, regulation of the supplements was left to the FDA. The 2014 Act took this responsibility from the FDA and gave it to the DOJ and added 25 compounds to the Controlled Substance list. However, while seemingly just another addition to a never ending and evolving legislation, the 2014 Act made it impossible for new substances to be created effectively killing the prohormone market.
Prior legislation required the FDA to prove a compound was an anabolic steroid. Under the new law, the Justice Department can now classify any compound as an anabolic steroid, which then becomes illegal and a controlled substance within 48 hours of the labeling. It is then up to the manufacturer to prove it is not an anabolic substance and fight the Justice Department on this claim; an impossible and futile task because even if proven to be non-anabolic, it must also be proven to share no relation to any anabolic substance. This is undoubtedly a far reaching and ironclad legislation as it gives the Justice Department full authority not only over anabolic steroids, but any substance it wishes to label an anabolic steroid whether it’s a steroid or not.
Unlike the previous two major steroid acts, the 2014 legislation, officially classified as HR 4771, was put into place to curtail manufacturing, whereas the original acts were put into place to curtail use. The 2014 law, while it does not affect underground steroid manufacturing, and you could argue it will turn more people to seek out underground purchases, the law does end any and all legal methods of performance enhancement. Under HR 4771, the following compounds and substances were added to the controlled list:
It’s no secret, anabolic steroids have in many instances been labeled public enemy number one. It’s a bit of a perplexing situation when you consider those who supplement with anabolic steroids are by-in-large law-abiding citizens and make up a large portion of contributing society. During the hearings that lead to the 1990 and 2004 Acts, it was strongly insinuated that only those of a despicable and immoral nature use anabolic steroids. But with more than six-million adults supplementing with anabolic steroids for the purpose of performance enhancement (some estimates are higher) it has to be asked, are these individuals as evil as portrayed to be?
Without question, the two primary control acts have done very little curb the use of steroids, use has only increased, but they have been very successful in other areas. The Steroid Control Acts of 1990 and 2004 has increased underground or black market sales, put more people in danger, and ruined the lives of many good people. Because anabolic steroid use is deep underground, consumer protection is non-existent; health risks are truly a risk when a substance is not obtained from a viable medical venue. On the other hand, one could argue underground steroid sales represent a true free market; the bad labs and suppliers fade away and the good ones grow, and largely this has been the case. Regardless of these factors, 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 but many find the end to be devastating when caught.
With the passage of the three prominent Steroid Control Acts, what has been produced is the second instance in U.S. history of prohibition. While not as significant as the first round that took place in the 1920’s, the Steroid Control Acts and Volstead Act share a lot in common. Through our own history, we saw how well prohibition worked, it didn’t work at all, but the modern era brings about a few things of interesting note. One could 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 laws of the U.S. exist. However, as it pertains to anabolic steroids, the question is simple – does such basis for this argument actually 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 is a fairly simple yet accurate observation most can agree on. However, one can easily argue, should it be considered cheating? 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. They are not secret substances only available to the privileged few; in fact, anabolic steroids are fairly cheap and more readily available than they were before the Anabolic Steroid Control Acts were ever enacted. But when it comes to steroids in sports, would it not be best to allow the sporting body to decide what’s best for the sporting body?
Then there are the health concerns, and in the modern era the U.S. government has taken the role of deciding what is healthy and what is not. However, one must keep in mind what was previously discussed, the AMA, FDA, NIDA, NIH and DEA all opposed the ban on the basis that there was no evidence that anabolic steroids led to the physical problems purported. Since the time of the original Steroid Control Act, the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) has released a study titled “The Effects of Supraphysiological Doses of Testosterone on Muscle Size and Strength in Normal Men” Supraphysiologic referring to doses far beyond those of medical and therapeutic need. The study found no ill effects from use of any significant nature. The negative results surrounding mood and behavior, often a supposed smoking gun for congress, were deemed so insignificant by the NEJM that they were for all intense purposes completely nonexistent.
The facts remain the same, in the United States millions of adults use anabolic steroids, no one is dying and no one is turning into a raging monster. Every year, more individuals visit the emergency room for complications from Tylenol and Aspirin and a host of other over the counter medications than they do for steroids. In fact, when it comes to reasons for ER visits, anabolic steroids are low on the list. With millions upon millions supplementing, if they were truly dangerous wouldn’t the numbers of complications be more significant?
There is no sound argument that can be made to schedule anabolic steroid, and to this day there still has been no argument that carries with it any weight. It is true, if anabolic steroids did lead to death that would be a sound argument. We can all point to a few supposed steroid related deaths, but only a few. Compare that to the 15,000+ that die each year from NSAID use in the U.S. alone. But the problem with the death argument is the deaths do not exist to support it. In nearly 100 years of anabolic steroid use, there has yet to be one single death directly linked to anabolic steroid use. In the end the reality is 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. 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.