Steroid use in Britain’s gyms is growing so fast, dirty needles are being disposed of in fitness centre sharps bins. The explosion in the popularity of potentially lethal muscle-building drugs has led to hundreds of thousands taking jabs. Their numbers now outstrip drug addicts who inject themselves with heroin in the UK, a Sunday Mirror investigation reveals. Our findings today confirm rising fears among drug charities and health experts that use of anabolic steroids – which mimic the effects of male hormone testosterone – is spiralling out of control. We discovered HIV infection among steroid injectors has risen to the same level found in heroin users – 1.5 per cent.
At one needle exchange in Warrington staff told us 90 PER CENT of the syringes they see have been used for steroids compared to only 10 per cent for heroin. Another exchange said children as young as 15 were using the drugs.
Anabolics can become addictive and lead to heart attacks, strokes and a higher chance of liver and prostate cancer as well as psychological problems. Killer Raoul Moat was on them when he shot three people in two days in 2010.
They are all too easily available online. But it is the tolerance of the growing problem by gyms around the country that is most worrying.
A shocked fitness fan who spotted one of the “sharps” bins containing used needles at a Virgin Active health club in London told us: “I couldn’t believe my eyes. “It’s one of the poshest gyms I’ve been in, £100 a month, and the bins were sitting right there in the toilets. It’s the first time I’ve seen that. I had a look and there were loads of needles and swabs.”
Easygym say they have the bins in their clubs for “safety reasons” and there are plans in place to introduce them in Dragon’s Den star Duncan Bannatyne’s 61 health clubs. Anytime Fitness is considering whether to introduce them. The clubs are following recommendations from health watchdog NICE – but nowhere near far enough.
NICE is concerned that gym users will share needles and spread HIV and Hepatitis B and C. It asked gyms not just to provide sharps bins but also sterile syringes for its members. None of the gyms we spoke to said they did this.
But the watchdog’s policy of accepting steroid use and the gyms’ adherence to that was yesterday blasted by tragic mum Tina Dear, whose Royal Marine son Matthew, 17, died just weeks after he started using steroids to bulk up. He is throught to have had a severe reaction sending his body into shock.
Tina, of Southend, Essex, said: “Needles bins in gyms normalise steroid use. People will go into changing rooms, see the gym has provided a bin and naturally presume steroids are safe.
“They’ll think it’s OK. But it’s not. It’s Russian Roulette. People don’t know what they’re taking. Gyms should be practising zero tolerance, especially when it comes to youngsters who look up to the older guys. They need positive role models.”
Jim McVeigh is acting director at the Centre for Public Health at Liverpool John Moores University and Britain’s leading expert in the misuse of anabolic steroids. He said the official figure of 70,000 steroid users in the UK was wrong. He warned: “It’s safe to say there are hundreds of thousands of steroid users in this country, more than heroin injectors.”
Needle exchanges – first set up in the wake of the AIDS crisis – confirm what he believes. One in Yorkshire, run by drug and alcohol charity Crime Reduction Initiatives (CRI), deals with 70 per cent steroid users compared to 30 per cent heroin.
And the problem is affecting younger and younger people. David Rourke from CRI’s Sheffield needle and syringe programme said he’s heard of children as young as 15 using steroids. He said: “We deal with guys over 18, but elsewhere I know of much younger kids.”
He believes the bins are a good idea. He said: “I have heard of gyms where used needles are shoved up into ceiling tiles. A safe alternative can’t be a bad thing.” Steroids are legal for personal use, but Jim McVeigh warned that is no indication they are safe. He said: “The fact is, users are taking a big risk. Often they don’t have a clue what they’re taking.
“These are people who wouldn’t buy a hotdog off the street, but they’ll take drugs off a stranger on the internet and inject themselves. There have been no long-term clinical tests on these substances, and most users take a cocktail of anything up to 12. They are playing with fire. We have no idea what long term health effects will be.”
Researchers from Public Health England and Liverpool John Moores University last year surveyed 395 men who used steroids and other performance enhancing drugs. As well as the one in 65 found to have HIV, the study also found one in 18 had been exposed to Hepatitis C and one in 11 had been to Hepatitis B.
While dealing steroids person to person is illegal, buying them online is easy. A simple Google search presents dozens of outlets offering the drugs. Gyms who have installed the bins yesterday defended their use.
Virgin Active said: “Sharp boxes are installed for practical and safety purposes for those with medical conditions, or needing to dispose of razors. Their presence in no way condones the use of steroids in our clubs.” Any illegal steroid activity is reported to the police, the spokesman added.
Easygym said: “Steroid use is not something we encourage or promote. For Health and Safety reasons only we provide a sharps bins for needles and razor blades. Bannatyne Health Clubs said: “The 61 health clubs will all have sharps boxes shortly.”
Anytime Fitness added: “We are currently looking at a sharps policy.” Professor Mike Kelly, Director of the NICE Centre for Public Health said: “Research shows people who inject these drugs are at an increased risk of blood-borne viruses including hepatitis.
“Needle and syringe programmes aim to stop people sharing potentially contaminated injecting equipment. Delivering these programmes in gyms is an important way to protect people.” But mum Tina, still grieving her lost son, said: “Gyms should be pushing education as their first priority instead of putting bins in their toilets.” * For more advice visit cri.org.uk and matthewdearfoundation.co.uk
Drug is a fuel for violent crime
Men on steroids are twice as likely to be involved in violence and carry weapons, say US studies. Scientists have linked steroid use to mood swings, paranoid jealousy, extreme irritabililty and impaired judgement. Anabolics addict Raoul Moat shot his ex-girlfriend Samantha Stobbart, her new partner Chris Brown and blinded PC David Rathband after blasting him in the face in 2010. In a letter to police, Moat, 37, described his anger saying: “It’s like the Hulk. It takes over and it’s more than anger and it happens when I’m hurt.”
Ex-US Marine David Bieber, who shot dead PC Ian Broadhurst in Leeds in 2003, was also pumped up on steroids. His father blamed the drugs for his 48-year-old son’s descent into a life of violence and crime. And 35-year-old Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in a bombing and shooting rampage in July 2011, was a heavy steroid user too.
Serious health risks for users Anabolic steroid users take enormous risks to boost the size of their muscles. But it’s not only serious medical conditions – from high blood pressure to liver, kidney and prostate cancer – they could trigger.
Taking the drugs can also can lead to a reduced sperm count, infertility, shrunken testicles and baldness in men. It can also cause severe acne. In women, steroid use can increase facial and bodily hair growth, deepen the voice and cause problems with periods. And some of the darker side effects are psychological, such as aggressive behaviour, mood swings, manic behaviour and even hallucinations.