Recently Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) introduced the Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act (DASCA) of 2014 in Congress. The bill gives DEA new tools to identify and quickly respond when new designer anabolic steroids hit the market. But if you are a mainstream dietary supplement marketer or manufacturer, particularly if you are not in the sports nutrition space, you might be asking yourself, "Why should I care?"
Anabolic steroids and the dietary supplement marketplace are unfortunately all too intertwined. Looking back at the history of the industry, the powerful anabolic steroid androstendione was marketed as a dietary supplement until FDA, DEA and the legitimate supplement industry worked together and declared it a controlled substance in 2004. More recently, the anabolic steroids Superdrol and Prostanozol were passed off as dietary supplements until the DEA restricted their sale in 2011.
At least in those cases, consumers knew what they were getting because “andro" was listed on the label; even more disturbing is the presence of undisclosed anabolic steroids that are added to otherwise legitimate sports nutrition supplements in an effort to boost their effects. Since 2010, when FDA announced a crackdown on anabolic steroids in supplements, FDA has issued more than 80 warning letters, consumer advisories and product recalls for products in which it has found anabolic steroids. Just browse through the advertisements of any “muscle magazine" and you will see countless models who promote supplements, but have a little “juicing" to thank for their physiques. We have to acknowledge that less-than-scrupulous elements have invaded our industry—and are damaging the reputation of all dietary supplements in the process. And more needs to be done.
Hopefully, everyone already appreciates the dangers of anabolic steroid use, but just for the record, these substances can cause high blood pressure, heart attack or stroke, liver disease or liver failure, higher levels of bad low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, shrinking of the testicles, diminished fertility, acne and enlarged breasts in men. Among teens, anabolic steroids can stop bone growth before it’s complete. And there’s a reason why they call it “’roid rage"—anabolic steroids cause irritability, uncontrolled high energy (mania), delusions, and excessive anger and violent behavior. Hardly the healthy image of wellness we want associated with supplements.
The problem is DEA, not FDA, has primary authority to declare a compound an anabolic steroid and restrict its distribution by placing it on the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA). Because the CSA is a criminal statute, due process requires the government give would-be criminals clear notice that their activities are illegal, which means describing substances with specificity on the CSA, so criminals know exactly what substances have been restricted. Up until now, that process meant DEA must demonstrate the actual anabolic effects of a chemical before listing it. Just imagine DEA giving rats or mice doses of each new substance, sending them to the miniature gym for three months and testing them for anabolic effects. Well, it’s not quite like that, but you get the picture: DEA was required to engage in lengthy physiological tests with each new substance. Because the steroid formulators are constantly modifying their molecules to stay one step ahead of the law, enforcement plays a perpetual game of “catch up" to identify and test these new products and place them on the CSA.