Peptides: Inside the secret lives of sport cheats

By Steve Deane

Powerful new-generation, performance-enhancing drugs are flowing into the country largely unchecked, a Herald investigation has found.

Substances such as growth hormone peptides - the use of which is reportedly rife in Australian sport - can be bought online for as little as $30 and received within days.

An investigation into the issue by Drug Free Sport NZ, High Performance Sport NZ and Sport NZ is about to report to Sport Minister Murray McCully that there is no evidence this country has a drug problem similar to that unearthed by the Australian Crime Commission in February.

But a two-month Herald investigation - launched following the publication of the commission's report into links between organised crime and drug use in professional sport - has found that:

* Seizures of peptides at the border increased 240 per cent last year.

* Use of the drugs is becoming increasingly popular here.

* Some are still not illegal to import or use, and moves are under way to legislate against others.

* Penalties for importing, possessing and using illegal performance-enhancing drugs are so weak, prosecutions are almost never brought against small-scale importers.

As part of its investigation into peptide availability and use, the Herald mimicked the actions of a would-be drugs cheat. We bought the drug GHRP-6 - which has allegedly been injected into Australian league and Aussie rules players - and trialled its use. The effects were dramatic.

During the investigation, the Government regulatory body Medsafe changed its view on the legal status of GHRP-6 and other growth hormone peptides.

The substances had been viewed as unscheduled medicines, meaning it was illegal to sell them or conduct clinical trials without a permit but not illegal to import or possess them.

Following an inquiry from the Herald under the Official Information Act, that position was reversed. Growth hormone peptides are now viewed as prescription medicines, meaning it is illegal to import or possess them without a prescription.

The peptide effect diary: Part one

The new interpretation - that peptide growth hormone is the same as pituitary growth hormone - has yet to be tested in court.

Documents received under the Official Information Act show that Medsafe has held concerns over a loophole that allowed importing of some classes of peptide since at least 2009, but nothing was done to close it.

An email from a senior Medsafe investigator to a Customs agent in September 2009 discussed a "major problem" with the legislation covering importing new medicines.

"While it is unlawful to sell, distribute or advertise a new medicine - it is not unlawful to import it (a major problem with the legislation)," the email said.

It also admitted incorrect advice was given to Customs regarding the legal status of Melanotan II - a popular tanning agent and aphrodisiac.

Medsafe originally believed that Melanotan II was included on the Medicines Act schedule. It isn't - a situation that led to a seized consignment being released to an importer last November. There are questions over the legality of several other seizures of Melanotan II.

Documents received by the Herald also show:

* Peptide seizures by Customs have increased dramatically in recent years. There were no seizures in 2009, three in 2010, 10 in 2011 and 34 in 2012.

* Medsafe has "concrete information" supplied by the boss of a steroid-ring that a peptide manufacturer planned to distribute free test kits so users could log their progress, with the information to be used as a marketing ploy. If they did so in New Zealand, it "would be a great kick start to 2013 sales".

* A doctor whose shipment of Melanotan II was seized by Medsafe claimed he mixed it with a facial cream to distribute to his patients to prevent sunburn.

* At least one consignment of GHRP-6 manufactured and distributed in New Zealand was seized by Medsafe.

* In 2009, Customs seized 100 vials of human growth hormone illegally sent from China. The importer was warned but not prosecuted.

Read more: The Peptide effect: Stepping on to slippery path of a drug cheat

* Have you used peptides? Email us your story here.

- NZ Herald

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