Inside look at city's illicit steroid industry
IT'S a drug that breaks down as many stereotypes as it creates, and one so endemic in Toowoomba police are making regular busts.
Anabolic steroids, or performance and image enhancing drugs, are ignorantly associated with gym users and those in the fitness industry, used by those after a bulk-up short cut and a quick fix, cleverly marketed to infiltrate all demographics.
Toowoomba's Tactical Crime Squad has noted an increasing number of drug arrests and seizures of the illicit substances in the same class as methamphetamines, cocaine and heroin.
The latest has been more than 50 vials of what police will allege are anabolic steroids seized from a Middle Ridge home owned by a 33-year-old woman linked to the fitness industry.
"There appears to be a broader demand across a wider demographic and not necessarily people who have criminal backgrounds," TCS Senior Sergeant Scott Stahlhut said.
"We have investigated teenagers who have sought these products, both male and female, young adults, and people well into their 50s and older in some instances."
Sergeant Peter Jenkins has been on the front line policing the latest drug scourge.
His concern is the naivete around steroid use, its illegality and the health dangers of the drugs which are typically manufactured in underground labs with a chemical make-up of the designer's choosing.
"They're packaged in vials, sealed with aluminium caps and whether that is a selling point or a marketing ploy is open to debate but if someone is naive to this sort of thing, and they encouraged to use or groomed to use these drugs, they will believe the product they are getting is legitimate," he said.
"The suppliers say it's a quality product but what we're saying is it isn't."
A quick Google search yields instant results and promises potential customers every form of steroid at various prices.
Whether it's increased muscle mass, more energy, vitality, alertness or even stress relief, the website lists costs from $80 a vial to more than $600.
The website has no phone numbers or retailer contacts, only a Gmail email address.
"Users could be injecting anything," Snr Sgt Stahlhut said.
"Some of the materials are sourced outside of the country but other substances and materials can be sourced elsewhere within Australia.
"We know that some chronic users will seek out other legitimate medications to counteract some of the effects of anabolic steroid abuse. Although not a regular occurrence, officers have located medications used to treat breast cancer when conducting investigations into illicit steroid supply."
Anabolic steroids are synthetic products based on the structure of testosterone and differ greatly from prescribed steroids, or corticosteroids, which are commonly prescribed to treat asthma.
When prescribed, they can treat hormonal problems, some cancers, osteoporosis and other rare conditions.
He said police are "definitively not" targeting the legitimate use market.
"The Safe Night Out Precinct Strategy Amendment Bill passed several years previously was the catalyst for steroid drugs being moved to a schedule one dangerous drug," he said.
"Steroid drugs have been classified as a dangerous drug under the Act for some time, but were bumped up to their current status given the health-related concerns with their use and links with violence perpetrated by some users.
"It was also acknowledged that organised crime has a heavy involvement in the importation, manufacture and distribution of steroids as a commodity of high illicit value.
"With poly-drug use where a person may be consuming steroids, consuming another illicit drug, and then adding alcohol to that, it's a pretty toxic combination."
While careful to note violent behaviours could be triggered by a number of factors, Snr Sgt Stahlhut said angry outbursts, or "roid rages" had been linked to steroid misuse and alcohol consumption.
Emergency services personnel and front line health service workers are then left to deal with the mess.
"What has really jumped out at us is the level of ignorance in some sectors of community about the health risks and the lawfulness of consuming illicit substances," he said.
"The vast majority of people we come across investigating this type of drug are simply not aware that it is a dangerous drug under the schedules and that they could be staring down the barrel of some pretty serious charges or even time inside.
"It is not a substance that is endemic in the fitness industry. However it does feature there for what it does by supposedly enhancing image and endurance."