Historically, professional bodybuilders and top athletes have used performance enhancing drugs for a competitive edge.
Yet the trend is now reaching activities like weight loss and body training, where users believe the drugs will enhance their appearance and fitness by allowing them to acquire muscle and lose weight faster.
The usage of performance and image enhancing substances in Australia is low, according to several recent population studies. But when looking at syringe and needle use nationwide along with an increasing number of steroids found by border agents, the accuracy of those statistics is called into question.
For this reason, Australia should consider decriminalising steroid use. Laws won’t be of any benefit to substance users, and there are more effective ways of safely addressing performance and image enhancing drug use.
HEALTH RISKS OF PERFORMANCE ENHANCING DRUGS
Steroids are the most targeted group of performance and image enhancing substances. Drugs in this class include the tanning agent melanotan II, as well as the weight-loss inducing clenbuterol.
Excessive and unsafe steroid use has been linked to a wide range of harmful psychological and physical effects. In particular, steroid use has been associated with heart attacks, hypertension, stroke, skin disorders, premature baldness, and a range of other ailments. Steroid use also carries a number of emotional consequences, including substance addiction, body modification, and self-esteem disorders.
Further complicating matters is the fact that users who purchase products on the black market are exposed to health risks from tainted drugs, as illegitimate manufacturers engage in shady production tactics.
A wide number of steroids are taken via needle, which increases potential health hazards. A recent study discovered that 41% of men in Australia who take steroids via injection suffer from health problems like abscesses and scarring.
STEROID LAWS GROW BIGGER
More and more law enforcement resources in Australia are dedicated to discovering illegal substances at the border. Officials cite concerns about organized crime connections in conjunction with the new laws.
Steroids were reclassified as a schedule-one drug in Queensland, the unofficial steroid capital of Australia. Schedule-one is the highest category of illicit drugs, giving steroids a legal penalty equivalent to that of cocaine and heroin.
The maximum sentence for possessing or distributing steroids is twenty-five years in jail, according to schedule-one laws. Both Victoria and New South Wales have similar sentencing guidelines.
Stringent sentencing laws have not led to a decrease in steroid usage, though. While the number of border arrests fell in the early 2010s, increases in usage have been reported more recently.
It was argued in 2015 by the Australian Crime Commission that greater domestic manufacturing of steroids could result in decreased border confiscations. In addition, the Internet has made it easier for users to access drugs on the black market.
Queensland leads Australia in arrests for steroid charges nationwide, accounting for 58% of arrests in 2014-15. But most of those arrested are steroid producers, not customers. This indicates that tougher steroid laws may not have affected distribution as strongly as lawmakers had hoped.
Greater dedication to law enforcement methods might not be the best way to respond to steroid use. The increase in performance enhancing substances has been most substantial in locations where legal ramifications have increased penalties, like in Queensland. The effects of drug laws on the distribution of other substances like heroin have shown a similar pattern.
HOW TOUGH SENTENCING LAWS AFFECT CITIZENS
Casual users of performance enhancing drugs are like other drug consumers in that they purchase in anticipation of a desired effect. Other considerations like cultural and social pressure also influence a person’s decision to buy drugs. Whether the substance is illegal or not is inconsequential, as the foremost thought of the user is on solving the unmet need with the resources available to them.
Users are not likely to refrain from using performance enhancing substances through the use of increased penalties. On the contrary, there could be negative effects, such as preventing users experiencing side effects from accessing medical services and/or healthcare out of fear of legal consequences.
Harsh sentencing laws can distract steroid users from learning safe consumption habits. In addition, tough laws for users contribute to black market growth, fragmentation between vendors and customers, and questionable manufacturing processes.
ON HARM-MINIMISATION STRATEGIES
The Steroid Education Project, a harm-reduction measure in Victoria, does not have the same resources and funding that measures for reducing alcoholism and other harmful substances have. Safe syringe training and peer counselling are among the programs staff are trained to provide to steroid users.
More protections in the way of resources are necessary in order for this training to reach GPs in all parts of Australia. They might be more helpful for harm-reduction than conventional drug programmes, considering users’ hesitation in reaching out to said services.
The use of harsh punishments will not address the proliferation of steroids or their accompanying emotional issues, such as depression. It is important that we therefore see performance enhancing drug use for what it is–a public health issue–instead of a criminal justice matter.