WASHINGTON—Two lawmakers are seeking to close a loophole in the war against dangerous anabolic steroids under legislation that would empower the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
The bill, introduced Feb. 11 amid the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), would classify "designer anabolic steroids" found in gyms, retail stores and over the Internet as controlled substances.
According to Hatch and Whitehouse, the products are made by reverse engineering illegal steroids and slightly changing their chemical composition.
Such reengineering avoids placement on DEA's list of controlled substances, posing a dilemma for federal authorities.
If products containing designer steroids meet the definition of a dietary supplement, FDA must demonstrate that they are "adulterated"—presenting "a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury"—before they can be removed from the market, a DEA official, Joseph Rannazzisi, explained in Sept. 29, 2009 testimony before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime and Drugs.
"However, if the product meets the definition of a drug, FDA need not show that the product is unsafe or otherwise adulterated to take enforcement action against it," he said.
Rannazzisi said DEA has no statutory authority to enforce the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) and very little power to enforce other provisions of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Bodybuilding supplements are among the products FDA finds are commonly tainted with unlawful substances.
Hatch and Whitehouse warned that designer steroids can cause such harm as liver injury and an increased risk of a heart attack and stroke, and may lead to addiction and aggression.
"The use of anabolic steroids or dietary supplements that contain anabolic steroids or designer steroids, in high doses that boost, alter or derive from testosterone may trigger numerous adverse health effects in the human body including liver toxicity, baldness, uncontrolled rage, and heart attacks," Rannazzisi stated in his 2009 testimony.
A spokesman for DEA did not immediately respond today to a request for comment on the legislation.
In a statement Feb. 11, United States Anti-Doping Agency CEO Travis Tygart lauded the Designer Anabolic Steroid Control Act as "an important step in helping to protect athletes at all levels, parents and all consumers from unscrupulous companies who are selling dangerous designer steroids disguised as supplements."
The legislation would achieve the following:
· place 27 known designer anabolic steroids on DEA's list of controlled substances;
· grant the federal agency authority to temporarily schedule new designer steroids on the list;
· create new penalties for distributing, importing and manufacturing the products under false labels; and
· authorize the Attorney General to publish a list of products containing an anabolic steroid that are not properly labeled.
The American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), Natural Products Association (NPA) and United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA) expressed their support for the legislation.
"Unapproved steroids illegally sold as dietary supplements are not only dangerous for consumers, but also unfairly damage the reputation of responsible dietary supplement companies that provide consumers with legitimate, high-quality and beneficial supplements for sports nutrition and performance," the groups said in a joint statement Feb. 11. "These illegal products put athletes at risk, pose safety problems and jeopardize the careers of athletes who could unknowingly test positive for these banned substances under their athletic associations’ rules of conduct."
In 2012, Hatch and Whitehouse introduced a similar bill, proposing to add 27 additional anabolic steroids to schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act. Had it been enacted, the legislation would have marked the third major federal law impacting anabolic steroids since 1990, according to the law firm Hyman, Phelps & McNamara in a 2012 blog.