Thread: Espn Artical On Smuggling
07-25-2003, 04:26 PM #1
Espn Artical On Smuggling
Anabolic steroids today are more accessible than ever, in part because of a 1990 federal law that was propelled, ironically, by public outrage over Johnson's steroids-fueled victory at the Seoul games. The Anabolic Steroids Control Act labeled a dozen forms of the drug as Controlled Substances, meaning that the production and distribution of them would be strictly monitored by the feds.
While experts hail the law for scaring off U.S. doctors who once used their lab coats to write steroids prescriptions for athletes, a two-month investigation by ESPN.com shows that by driving the market underground -- to foreign sources such as Mexican pharmacies -- the law failed to achieve its stated goal, of cracking down on illegal steroid use .
"It was the law of unintended effects," said Gary Wadler, a New York doctor and consultant to the White House on drugs and sports. "Back then, no one thought we were taking a step backward by making it a Controlled Substance. But in reality that's exactly what happened."
In recent years, sports headlines have been dominated by the newer drugs used by Olympic athletes, including human growth hormone , EPO and asthmatic inhalers. But quietly, yesterday's drug -- steroids -- has become a drug of choice for a broadening group of athletes, as well teenagers who just want to look good on the beach, Wadler said.
In fact, on the 10th anniversary of the law, the problem appears to be greater in some ways than it was in the 1980s when evidence of steroid use by elite athletes first galvanized politicians, sports leagues and doctors to declare war on the muscle-building hormones.
In the past year, U.S. Customs agents made 8,724 seizures of steroids, up 46 percent from 1999 and up eight-fold from 1994, when a then-alarming 1,185 seizures were made. Experts say the growth in seizures is more reflective of the growth of the black market than of any new detection tools at the border, where Customs agents concede that the vast majority of smugglers elude their net.
Once across the border, those steroids are reaching younger consumers. Once associated largely with football players and Olympic athletes, steroid use in the past decade appears to have grown among two key groups -- female athletes and middle-school boys, who are most at risk of serious, irreversible damage to their health because of their hormonal makeup.
According to a 1999 National Institute of Drug Abuse survey, steroid use among students is now at its highest point in a decade, with an estimated 479,000 students nationwide, or 2.9 percent, having used the drug by their senior year of high school. More alarming, nearly 45 percent of students say it would be easy to get steroids if they wanted them.
More than ball is juiced
Among the new groups of steroid users are players in Major League Baseball, which a decade ago was thought to be devoid of such drug use. Now, players seeking steroids commonly cross the border into Tijuana, 30 miles south of San Diego, when in town for a Padres series.
"I know some guys that go down there, or they'll send one guy down there with a list (of steroids) to pick up" for teammates, said Brian McRae, an ESPN analyst who retired in 1999 after 10 years in the majors. "Sometimes people go in the winter and they load up for the whole season."
Anaheim Angels infielder Benji Gil, who is from Tijuana, told ESPN.com that some players acquire steroids during the winter when they are playing in the Mexican League.
"In the town where I play in Mexico (Culiacán), I know somebody that goes around to every team and says he sells" steroids, said Gil, who described the man as a local bodybuilder. "He mostly targets Americans."
Brad Andress, Colorado Rockies strength coach, said steroids are particularly a problem with West Coast teams because of the proximity to Mexico.
"I've been at the major league level for 11 years now, and those stories were here from day one," he said. "It's just getting to the point where the more these stories permeate the industry, the more guys explore the simplicity of going down and attaining it."
In response to ESPN.com's findings, Major League Baseball issued a statement by Rob Manfred, Executive Vice President of Labor Relations.
The league "is aware of reports that a black market selling illegal steroids exists in Mexico," Manfred said. "The use of illegal steroids is a violation of Major League Baseball's drug policy. Our security people routinely engage in activities designed to make sure baseball players do not engage in any activity that would be in violation of the law or our policy."
League officials declined further comment.
The size of the black market is as much a mystery as the number of athletes using the drugs. But public health experts say the market is larger -- perhaps far larger -- than the $300 million to $400 million estimate by the U.S. General Accounting Office in 1988, the last time government made an effort to quantify the problem.
Nowhere is demand for steroids more evident than here in Tijuana, which has long served Americans with products that are outlawed or overpriced back home. In the past decade, pharmacies have popped up all over the city of 1 million people -- 950 of these stores in all, twice as many as in more populous San Diego. There are 200 of them within a 10-block area downtown, where young Americans hunting for steroids walk amid old Americans shopping for prescription-drug bargains.
Under Mexican law, steroids, too, are supposed to be sold only with prescription. With some forms of the drug, pharmacists also are supposed to keep the written prescription note to prevent continuous refills. Stores can lose their operating licenses if they fail to obey those laws.
But those regulations are like red lights in Rome -- they routinely are ignored. An ESPN.com reporter and ESPN producer, with hidden cameras, walked into five pharmacies at random in Tijuana. In all five, employees of the pharmacies offered to sell steroids without a prescription, usually without restriction on the amount.
ESPN.com also bought steroids in two veterinary pharmacies. These stores, called "graneras," such as El Alazan, are increasingly popular with athletes because they sell stronger steroids that are not approved for human use in the U.S.
The standard-issue white coats that some pharmacy clerks wear mean little in a country in which one of every 100 citizens has a college education. When asked to compare various steroid products or recommend dosage levels, they often fumbled for vague answers. They were far more precise in their advice on how to smuggle the steroids back over the border and violate American law.
One pharmacy worker who described himself as an amateur boxer offered to remove the liquid from an injectable steroid and pour it into a vitamin bottle. Others suggested the boxes be wrapped in a blanket, stuffed down our pants or taped to our torsos.
"They don't check your bag," said a teenage woman managing a pharmacy one block from the border.
U.S. Customs officials concede that there is some truth to that claim. Charged with enforcing more than 600 laws for 60 federal agencies, steroids are merely one of many items that overwhelmed inspectors are asked to flag. And while intercepting narcotics is a top priority, steroids get less attention; dogs, for instance, have never been taught to sniff out steroids as they have cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine.
Smugglers appear to be winning the game, especially along the vast U.S.-Mexico border where trade between the two countries has boomed in the era of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). At the San Ysidro port north of Tijuana, for instance, 60,000 people a day pass into the U.S. On average, only one of them will get caught with steroids.
That figure is a source of frustration, considering that Drug Enforcement Administration considers Mexico to be the leading provider of black-market steroids. Many of the drugs are produced by companies outside Mexico City, while others are made in Australia, Asia and Eastern Europe then distributed up through the so-called "Roid Corridor" of northwest Mexico.
"We're just getting the tip of the iceberg," said Edward Logan, U.S. Customs Special Agent in charge of the San Ysidro port.
Compounding the problem is the Internet. Websites are helping connect pharmacies to customers, including one website devoted to Mexican steroids that lists the phone numbers and addresses of border pharmacies. Many of those stores will mail their products directly to the customer's door. Others will, for a small fee, hire human "mules" to smuggle the steroids over the border and mail the package from the U.S. side, thus avoiding X-ray machines that scan international mail.
"What the American legit market can't provide, the black market will," said Chris Street, an exercise physiologist and former muscle magazine editor who has written extensively on the Mexican steroids market.
Street calls for legalizing steroids in the U.S. He contends that the federal government's decision to make them a Controlled Substance was a disaster, reducing the quantity of steroids diverted from legitimate U.S. drug manufacturers through U.S. doctors and forcing steroid users to turn to the black market. Where doctors once supplied up to one-third of the steroids to athletes by some estimates, now, it's just a trickle, according to Jim Tolliver, a pharmacologist with the Drug Enforcement Administration.
And the folks at Granero El Alazan could not be more pleased.
After the sale of stanazolol to ESPN.com, the clerk behind the counter implies that he also can arrange for the importation and purchase of any of several exotic animals. The rule of thumb applies once again: If it's banned in the U.S., El Alazan is in business.
"You want a gorilla?" he says, with a serious face.
Tom Farrey (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Senior Writer with ESPN.com. Tomorrow, the series looks at the steroids smuggling case of former NFL running back George Jones and the lagging interest in these cases by law enforcement and prosecutors.
ESPN producer Arty Berko contributed to this story.
Steroid use by 10th graders hits new high
Steroid smuggling: Crime but no punishment
A blind eye to steroids?
Crossing the Line: Steroids nightmare
NCAA drug-testing program catches few cheaters
Health dangers: Fact and fiction
Audio chat wrap: Former NFL player, steroid user Steve Courson
Former player Brian McRae explains how major leaguers get their steroids from Mexico.
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ESPN.com's Tom Farrey asks U.S. Customs inspector Pat Wright whether it would be easy to smuggle steroids over the border.
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American players are targeted by steroid pushers during winter ball in the Mexican League, says Angels infielder Benji Gil.
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Gil says baseball players get special treatment from Tijuana pharmacies.
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Colorado Rockies strength coach Brad Andress increasingly hears players talk about getting steroids in Mexico.
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07-25-2003, 05:12 PM #2
07-25-2003, 06:03 PM #3
wow, thats pretty interesting. thanks for the read.
07-25-2003, 06:06 PM #4
Great article, very informative
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