«November 3, 2005 The Honorable Tom Davis Chairman The Honorable Henry Waxman Ranking Minority Member Committee on Government Reform House of ...»
United States Government Accountability Office
Washington, DC 20548
November 3, 2005
The Honorable Tom Davis
The Honorable Henry Waxman
Ranking Minority Member
Committee on Government Reform
House of Representatives
Subject: Anabolic Steroids Are Easily Purchased Without a Prescription and Present
Significant Challenges to Law Enforcement Officials
This report responds to your request that we investigate whether anabolic steroids can
be purchased without a prescription and test whether such purchases are easily made.
You also asked us to identify common sources of illegal anabolic steroids, and significant challenges law enforcement officials encounter in investigating, prosecuting, and deterring criminal anabolic steroid traffickers.
To complete this work, we made purchases through the Internet of anabolic steroids commonly used by athletes and bodybuilders, and had tests performed on the products purchased by the National Medical Services, a commercial laboratory, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). To identify significant challenges law enforcement officials encounter in the investigation and prosecution of illegal anabolic steroid traffickers, we interviewed officials of federal agencies that have responsibility for enforcement of laws relating to anabolic steroids--FDA, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Agency (CBP)--and we visited CBP international mail facilities at two airports that receive significant quantities of mail containing anabolic steroids, New York’s Kennedy Airport and at the Miami International Airport. Additionally, to obtain the perspective of state and local officials on enforcement issues, we interviewed officials of New York’s Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor, the only prosecutorial agency in the country that is exclusively dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of felony drug offenses. We also spoke with officials of the United States Sentencing Commission and researched current and proposed legislation relating to illegal anabolic steroid activity.
Summary Our investigators easily obtained anabolic steroids without a prescription through the Internet. After conducting Internet searches, they found hundreds of Web sites offering anabolic steroids commonly used by athletes and bodybuilders for sale. The GAO-06-243R Anabolic Steroids investigators then used an e-mail account in a fictitious name to place 22 orders. From these orders, we received 10 shipments of anabolic steroids; all were shipped from foreign countries. We also received 4 shipments from within the United States but the substances they contained, though marketed as anabolic steroids or other “muscle building” products, were not anabolic steroids according to the FDA.1 We are referring the evidence concerning our purchases to DEA and to FDA for appropriate action.
The officials we spoke with told us that most anabolic steroids sold illegally in the United States come from abroad, and that the Internet is the most widely used means of buying and selling anabolic steroids illegally. They also reported that, because of the foreign origin of the steroids and the widespread use of the Internet in steroid trafficking, extensive time and resources are usually required to investigate and prosecute steroid cases. Further, the sheer volume of all types of imports from abroad presents significant challenges in efforts to prevent anabolic steroids from illegally entering the United States. Additionally, some officials noted the relatively low sentences that result from application of the federal sentencing guidelines to persons convicted of illegal steroid trafficking.
Anabolic steroids are synthetic forms of the male sex hormone testosterone that can be taken orally, injected, or rubbed on the skin. Under U.S. law they cannot be sold without a prescription, and are dispensed to treat conditions associated with low testosterone levels, such as delayed puberty or body wasting associated with AIDS. When used in combination with exercise, training, and a high protein diet, anabolic steroids can improve endurance and promote increased muscle size and strength. Because of these effects, they are illicitly used as performance-enhancing drugs by some athletes, bodybuilders, and others to improve competitiveness or appearance.
However, steroid abuse can cause devastating side effects, including liver, kidney, and heart disease; cancer, stroke, and behavioral changes such as increased aggression and severe depression. The availability and use of anabolic steroids in sports, particularly among adolescents, is a growing concern. According to a National Institute of Health study, use of steroids by American young people underwent a period of sharp rise in the late 1990s, and continues to be at an all time high among 12th graders. Moreover, in a th recent study performed by the University of Michigan, more than 42 percent of 12 graders reported that anabolic steroids are easy or fairly easy to obtain without a prescription.
In 1990, Congress passed the Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 19902 adding anabolic steroids to the federal schedule of controlled substances. The act placed anabolic steroids on Schedule III of the Controlled Substance Act and specifically identified Eight orders were never received.
Anabolic Steroids Control Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-647, 104 Stat. 4851 (1990) (amending the Controlled Substances Act, 21 U.S.C. § 812 (c)).
Prior to 1990, anabolic steroids were not classified as a controlled substance under federal law, and their use was subject to regulation by the FDA.
2 GAO-06-243R Anabolic Steroids 27 anabolic steroids. The maximum term of imprisonment for a Schedule III controlled substance offense is 5 years, or 10 years if the person has a prior felony drug offense conviction.4 The Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 2004 added additional anabolic steroids to Schedule III of the Controlled Substance Act.
Purchases of Anabolic Steroids without a Prescription Our investigators tested whether it would be easy for anyone who has access to a computer to locate and make purchases from dealers who sell anabolic steroids illegally.
To do this, they replicated what any athlete or bodybuilder of any age can do on a home computer. First, they conducted Internet searches using the words “anabolic steroids,” or the names of specific anabolic steroids that DEA identified for us as commonly used by athletes and bodybuilders. As a result, they found hundreds of Web sites offering anabolic steroids for sale.
The investigators placed a total of 22 orders for anabolic steroids through 22 of these Web sites that were selected randomly. Using an e-mail account that they established in a fictitious name, the investigators completed these orders and paid for them. As a result, we received 14 shipments. Of that number, 10 were anabolic steroids; the 4 additional shipments contained substances that were not anabolic steroids.5
The 10 orders of anabolic steroids we received were obtained through Web sites that openly and boldly offer anabolic steroids for sale. Some of the Web sites offer a variety of pharmaceutical drugs, while others sell anabolic steroids exclusively. They typically offer “private and confidential” sales of “discretely shipped” anabolic steroids that will “shape your body the way... you want it to look.” Many sites offer dozens of anabolic steroids for sale. They promote anabolic steroid use through claims that they have good affects on the body, touting, for example, that one product is a “growth-promoting agent.” Other Web sites, including some of those from which we made purchases, offer packages of different steroids for those who “cycle” or “stack” their use of anabolic steroids. A cycle is a period of from 6 and 14 weeks of steroid use, followed by a period of abstinence or gradual reduction in use; stacking is using multiple anabolic steroids concurrently. The packages offered by the Web sites are designed for a variety of different users, from “beginning” muscle builders to advanced “mass” builders, to customers interested in the “ladies lean stack.” Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986, Pub. L. No. 99-570, 100 Stat. 3207 (codified at 21 U.S.C. § 841(b)(1)(D); 21 U.S.C. § 960(b)(4) (5-year maximum term of imprisonment for import violations).
The National Medical Services laboratory tested the 10 products that were anabolic steroids to confirm that they were in fact anabolic steroids and to determine the type of anabolic steroid received; the FDA tested the 4 other products we received to determine their contents.
3 GAO-06-243R Anabolic Steroids The Web sites do not indicate the country from which the steroids are shipped, but we later learned from return addresses and postmarks on the shipments that the anabolic steroids all came from outside the United States. Although we placed these 10 orders at 10 different Web sites, the shipments came from just three different countries: five were from Trieste, Italy; four from Shanghai, China; and one from Athens, Greece. The shipment from Athens, Greece came in a plain 5- by 6- inch envelope bearing a return address label with an individual’s name and address. It contained one bottle of the anabolic steroid Testosterone Propionate in liquid form. We paid $114.00 for the order using a credit card.
The five orders shipped from Trieste, Italy, came in plain 5 by 7 inch envelopes bearing one of three different return address labels with an individual’s name and address. From one address we received two orders, each containing 100 tablets of the anabolic steroid Methandrostenolone. Using a credit card, we paid $109.20 for one of these orders and $107.90 for the other.
From a different return address in Trieste we received two other packages, each containing one bottle of the anabolic steroid Testosterone Cypionate in liquid form.
Using a credit card, we paid $120.90 for one of these orders. For the other, we followed instructions sent through e-mail communications from the dealer to wire $144.00 through Western Union to an individual in Vienna, Austria. From the third address in Trieste we received a package containing 100 tablets of Methandrostenolone. We paid $117.00 for the order and wired the money through Western Union to an individual in Salzburg, Austria, as instructed.
Each of the four shipments from Shanghai came in a plain 6 by 9 inch envelope. Each envelope had a return address label bearing a different individual’s name and address.
We paid for each of them by credit card. One package contained 150 yellow tablets of the anabolic steroid Stanozolol for which we paid $200.00. A second package containing 20 tablets of Stanozolol was also received, and we paid $97.00 for them. Additionally, we received a package containing crushed green tablets of the anabolic steroid Oxymetholone and paid $124.00 for them. The fourth package from Shanghai contained 40 green tablets of Oxymetholone and cost $323.00.
Other Products Received
We also received four shipments from dealers in the United States through Web sites that claimed to sell anabolic steroids or products that have the muscle-building effects of anabolic steroids. However, according to FDA, none of these shipments contained anabolic steroids. We have referred the results of our investigation concerning these products to the FDA.
4 GAO-06-243R Anabolic Steroids Challenges Faced by Law Enforcement Officials When Investigating and Prosecuting Illegal Steroid Trafficking Cases Law enforcement officials identified significant challenges in their efforts to investigate, prosecute, and deter criminal anabolic steroid traffickers. These challenges arise from the foreign origin of many illegally sold steroids, the widespread use of the Internet in steroid trafficking, the volume of mail CBP must screen in its efforts to prevent entry of anabolic steroids into the United States, and the relatively low sentences that result from application of the federal Sentencing Guidelines to illegal steroid offenders.
Most Illegally Sold Anabolic Steroids Come From Abroad
The law enforcement officials we spoke to reported that, in their experience, most anabolic steroids distributed illegally in the United States come from abroad. The results of our test purchases tend to confirm this. Larger illegal anabolic steroid dealers in the United States frequently have multiple overseas sources of steroids. Significant quantities of anabolic steroids come from Mexico, as well as other countries such as Russia, Romania, and Greece.
There is a readily available supply of steroids worldwide because, in most countries, anabolic steroids can be sold legally without a prescription. Thus, many foreign distributors do not violate the laws of their own country when they sell these substances to people in the United States. As a result, U.S. law enforcement agencies have difficulty in obtaining assistance from their foreign counterparts in investigations of such distributors.
Law enforcement officials also identified smuggling of anabolic steroids6 across international borders into the United States as an important part of the illegal distribution network and described how smugglers typically operate. A smuggler in the United States takes orders from steroid customers in person, over the phone, or via e-mail. After obtaining advance payment from customers, the smuggler will travel to the source country, usually Mexico, to purchase the steroids. Some smugglers pay someone else to perform this function or have a foreign source that will ship the steroids.
Smugglers who travel either carry the steroids back or ship them to the United States. In Mexico and European countries, smugglers usually buy anabolic steroids from pharmacies.
In some cases, the smuggler may ship the steroids to a partner in the United States, known as a remailer, and provide the remailer with addresses of specific U.S. customers.
The remailer repackages the steroids and sends them to the customers. According to An emerging issue identified by officials we spoke with is the illegal importation of anabolic steroids in bulk powder form. Large quantities of steroids can be smuggled in bulk powder form into the United States where injectible forms of steroids can be reconstituted from them. These shipments are more difficult to detect than steroids in tablet or liquid form.