Simon Plumb is a journalist for the Herald on Sunday

Vanity and gym culture behind rise in Kiwi steroid use

Medical experts at a conference this week will focus on Kiwis' growing use of anabolic steroids, blaming it on vanity and the gym culture. Photo / 123RF
Medical experts at a conference this week will focus on Kiwis' growing use of anabolic steroids, blaming it on vanity and the gym culture. Photo / 123RF

A surge in Kiwis using anabolic steroids will be on the agenda at the centre of a major medical meeting this week.

The annual Australasian College for Emergency Medicine conference starts in Queenstown on Sunday and the rise in anabolic steroids in this country will be one of the five-day event's headline sessions.

Anabolic steroids are illegal in New Zealand under the Medicines Regulations Act and the drugs, which can be injected or taken in pill form, are linked to a raft of serious medical concerns, including heart attacks, strokes and depression.

However, figures over recent years have been trending upward. Figures provided by the Ministry of Health say that in 2008, 89 parcels of performance and image enhancing drugs (PIEDS) were intercepted at the border. Last year the number was 329 parcels.

Experts link the increase to vanity and open availability of the drugs over the internet.

Clinical toxicologist Dr Emma Lawrey will deliver the session on Monday, saying she selected the subject to urge the medical industry to tackle anabolics more aggressively.

"People need to start thinking about it because you see from news and prosecutions that it is increasing," Lawrey said.

"Elite athletes get the press but in terms of the general population, those numbers are tiny compared to your average gym-goer or club rugby player.

"It's very easy to buy them online. I think it's an image issue, it's less about the weights being lifted and more about how people look and pressure to look good."

Lawrey says part of the problem are the side effects steroids can cause.

"They're associated with cardiac issues, strokes and there's starting to be evidence that it has degenerative potential, which is something we're not going to see for years because it's mainly young people, but there's potential for early onset dementia associated with prolonged anabolic steroid use," she said.

Drug Free Sport New Zealand (DFSNZ) chief Graeme Steel says anabolic steroids are still a major concern - three years after he told a Parliamentary select committee that use was increasing among gym users, mostly out of an obsession with looking good.

"We have not found a lot of use among top athletes, but the use of steroids, peptides and the like appears to be growing across the community and in gyms. The availability seems to be greater," Steel said.

We are deeply concerned at the vulnerability of our young athletes to a culture which is increasingly accepting to those drugs,
Graeme Steel, Drug Free Sport NZ chief executive

Last month DFSNZ described 2016 as a year in which drugs in sport hit the headlines like never before - referencing the World Anti-Doping Agency accusing Russia of running a state-support doping programme for years.

Our national anti-doping agency has positioned "the growing body beautiful culture" as a major risk to New Zealand's future sporting integrity, with Steel saying competition for careers and financial rewards are leading some young athletes to break the rules.

"There's pressure at younger and younger ages to be successful and potentially, in the case of rugby league and union, get large contracts," he said.

This month premier Manawatu rugby player Adam Jowsey was issued with a two-year ban for using banned substance Clenbuterol - which is not an anabolic steroid but has similar effects.

Jowsey could have been issued a four-year ban but his punishment was lowered due to him not knowing Clenbuterol was banned.

- NZ Herald

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